Do You Really Need a Real Estate Attorney to Buy or Sell a House? Answers Ahead

If you’re buying or selling real estate, you may have heard you should hire a real estate attorney. “Should” is a squishy term, though. Do you need to hire a real estate attorney at all?

Granted, real estate deals are complicated transactions, so the last thing you want is to land in legal hot water. Nonetheless, in the same way you may not want to hire a travel agent to book a trip these days, you also don’t want to shell out for an attorney when you can make do without him, either.

So if you’re on the fence or just unsure if a real estate attorney is required for you, here’s some straight-up info to help you figure that out.

What does a real estate attorney do?

The job of a real estate attorney is to negotiate and make a transaction come together in a peaceful manner that’s fair and amenable to all parties.

A real estate attorney takes over after the selling price and terms have been established by the real estate agents in the contract and all parties have signed. At that point, a real estate attorney reviews the contract and, once a home inspection and title search have been done, negotiates repairs and other adjustments to the terms of the deal.

In case any last-minute issues crop up, the attorney will attend your closing along with your real estate agent and possibly a representative from your lender.

That all sounds great, but do you actually need one?

States that require a real estate attorney

Many states have laws mandating the involvement of a real estate attorney, often requiring their presence at closing. These include Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. Keep in mind that these rules can vary by region within states, too.

Reasons to hire a real estate attorney even if it’s optional

Here are a few reasons home buyers and sellers may want to hire an attorney.

Reasons for buyers to hire an attorney

  • You’re an out-of-town buyer.
  • You’re buying a property that is a short sale or bank-owned.
  • You’re buying a property that is part of an estate sale.
  • You’re buying a commercial property.
  • You’re buying a property that could potentially have some structural issues.
  • You’re buying a property in a problematic area such as a flood zone or areas with adverse conditions (tornado-prone, radon, toxicity levels, etc.).

Reasons for sellers to hire an attorney

  • You’re selling a property that is in some state of distress.
  • You’re the heir or executor of a property whose owner is now deceased.
  • You’re selling a house with an uncooperative partner.
  • You have judgments or liens on the property.
  • You have that gut feeling that something could possibly go wrong based on the knowledge you have about the property.

How much does a real estate attorney cost?

If you hire one, it will depend on where you live, but you can expect to pay $800 to $1,000.

Having an attorney involved early in the process can often save time and money in the long run, If the real estate attorney is retained and involved early enough, the attorney may be able to prevent a larger dispute that could develop later in the transaction and cost all parties far more in attorney fees, costs, and time.

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