There are differing opinions on whether you actually need a real estate attorney for every home transaction. If your home sale/home purchase is straightforward with no hint of a problem, you probably don’t need one.
However, if you are in one of these situations then a real estate attorney would be a very good idea.
- You are a residential investor
- You are facing foreclosure on your home
- You wish to purchase a home on short sale
Start looking for an attorney early if you already know this will be your situation. These and other complex real estate issues are better addressed by someone knowledgeable of the legal ramifications and whose interests are tied to yours rather than the realtor’s. You don’t want to pick someone on the fly.
And don’t minimize the need for you to be comfortable with this person. You and your lawyer may spend a lot of quality time together. Things run smoother when you’re relaxed and confident in your choice.
Start with Word of Mouth
Ask friends, neighbors, and family first if they can recommend a real estate attorney. Otherwise, you can go to the local bar association or even ask your real estate agent. If you do the latter, make sure the lawyer is independent of the agent
While you are looking, check out the attorney’s website if there is one. Look at any ads or articles written by this person. Are the ads in good taste? Does the article seem knowledgeable and professional?
Look for Experience
A leading factor in success is the amount of specific experience an attorney has had. You need to find a licensed attorney who has been practicing real estate law in your state and has handled cases similar to yours.
Interview more than one attorney. Learn what law school they attended and whether it is accredited. Ask how long they have practiced locally. If you have a very complex case, someone with 8 to 15 years of experience in your area would be a better bet than someone who has only had his/her shingle out for a year or two.
Understand the Fee Structure
Be sure to ask for the fee schedule and understand it completely. Except on occasions where a flat fee makes sense, like writing a contract, most lawyers bill by the hour. Depending on your geographic location, hourly fees can run from $150-$500 an hour.
Request a Case Overview
The attorney is working for you. It is reasonable to ask for an explanation of what he plans to do in your case. Vague answers are a reason to walk away. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you a specific, if rough, plan of action based on your description of the case.
Now is a good time to find out if the plan includes other people working on the case as well. If a paralegal, a junior partner, or other individual will be your main contact, you need to be comfortable with them, too.
Read the Fine Print
You are hiring someone. Be certain you understand the rules of engagement. A retainer agreement or an engagement letter will spell out exactly how your business partnership will work. If you don’t understand, educate yourself. If you aren’t comfortable, don’t sign it.
Many real estate transactions are fairly straightforward and the boilerplate contracts are sufficient. But having someone in your corner to protect your interests is imperative if there is any question about your rights.