What is the scope of responsibility of a real estate lawyer, and do you need one?

Your state may require that you hire a real estate lawyer to make buying your home as easy as possible. The primary duty of a real estate lawyer is to ensure the legal transfer of property from the seller to the buyer.

These realestate attorney perform multitasking, such as preparing or checking documents, ensuring title clarity, and facilitating the transfer of funds. 

The exact responsibilities of a real estate lawyer will vary depending on who is hiring the seller, buyer, or lender, what state laws require, and what is needed to make your home purchase a hassle-free experience.

What services does a real estate lawyer offer?

Real estate attorneys deal with «real estate» transactions. Real property is mainly interchangeable with real estate – land and permanent structures that are fixed on the location.

You do not need to go to court to buy a home in most situations. A real estate lawyer prepares or reviews all documents related to the purchase of your home, such as the contract, any additional agreements made with the seller, records from your lender, title deeds, and transfer documents. If you use real estate attorney services, they can be present virtually or in person at the closing of the transaction.

Real estate lawyers can handle additional aspects of buying a home, such as title verification and title insurance, to check there are no outstanding claims or liens on the property. They may also pass funds transfer documents to the seller and lender or facilitate the transaction as a third party.

A real estate lawyer can also help if there is a problem that delays the sale.

Does it make sense to hire a real estate lawyer?

Your decision to utilize real estate lawyer services will most likely depend on which state of the US you are trying to buy property in. States may differ in what they consider «practice of law», which means that what is good for a real estate agent or notary to take care of in one state might require an attorney in another part of the country.

  • If you are buying an immovable in certain states, including Georgia, Connecticut, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New York, state law requires you to hire an attorney for real estate to handle certain parts of the transaction.
  • State law requires the attorney to provide a title opinion in other states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Such a conclusion confirms that the lawyer has familiarized himself with the extract of title or examination and has not noticed any obstacles to making a real estate transaction.
  • Even if your state doesn't require a real estate attorney, you can still hire one if you're dealing with a more complex type of purchase, such as a short sale, or if there's a problem, such as an adjacent building crossing the property line.

In some situations, your mortgage lender may require a real estate lawyer to be involved in the transaction. It may mean that you do not pay for an attorney because they do not represent you as a buyer.

In states that require a closing attorney, it is essential to understand that even if you hire and pay for a lawyer, they are considered a neutral party who is simply interested in getting the deal done quickly.

Remember: real estate lawyers will only represent you if you hire them as your advocate. When the attorney is working on behalf of your creditor or as a closing lawyer (in which case they represent everyone in the finalization of the transaction), you can hire your counsel.

How much to pay a real estate attorney?

The cost of a lawyer will vary depending on what does real estate attorney do and how they decide to bill you. A lawyer may require a fixed fee that includes a particular set of services (for instance, studying a title abstract and providing a title opinion), or an hourly fee.

A real estate attorney's fee is usually paid as part of your closing costs. You'll see this on your loan estimate document under «services you can buy» because it's not a fixed cost. The estimate shown in the loan estimate may vary depending on the attorney you hire and your legal needs.

Where to find a real estate lawyer

If you're looking to find a real estate lawyer, ask friends or relatives who have recently purchased homes for advice. Your real estate agent will probably also have a reference in states where it is customary or required to have a lawyer. Check your lawyer's credentials with your state bar to ensure they have a good reputation. (State bar association platform can also help you find real estate lawyers near you). Before hiring a lawyer, try to understand what can a real estate attorney do for you.

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