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Why do you need a real estate attorney when buying a house?

Buying a home is probably one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make. You sign reams of paperwork for both the loan and the purchase of the property. This purchase also involves real estate law, which raises special and unique practice issues and issues not present in other transactions. As a result, some states have begun to certify attorneys as “Real Estate Specialists” because a real estate attorney is trained to address these issues. The home buying process seems simple on the surface and leaves many people asking this question: “Do I really need to hire a real estate attorney?”

The purchase agreement may be the most important document handled during the transaction. Sure, pre-printed electronic forms are helpful, but an attorney can explain the forms and make changes and/or additions based on the buyer’s and seller’s requests. Some typical topics that are commonly addressed in the purchase agreement are the following:

– What happens if the property is found to contain hazardous waste materials?

– What are the legal ramifications if the closing does not take place as scheduled? What happens to the initial payment? (This question raises other related questions: Will the down payment be held in escrow by an attorney? How will the payment be made? Will closing be properly conditional on the buyer obtaining financing?)

– What if termites, asbestos, or lead-based paint are found when inspecting the property?

– If the property is altered or an addition is added, was it done lawfully?

– If the buyer intends to change ownership, can the proposed plans be done legally?

If the sellers don’t seem reasonable or are asking for something unusual, that’s usually a good time to call an attorney. A lawyer can serve as a great backup for a real estate agent and can translate the legal jargon that comes your way in the piles of paperwork. Brokers and escrow agents don’t get paid until closing, so if something goes wrong during closing, they’ll naturally be inclined to encourage you to sign the papers and close instead of creating a mishap. For example, if you find a defective title on closing day, you need someone to be there to let you know what your rights are. Alternatively, the seller may make promises to fix the property’s problems, but still push for the closing. These promises must be included in a contract and approved by an attorney.

Perhaps the most important reason to be represented by a real estate attorney is to resolve the conflicting interests of the parties involved. Buyers and sellers are often at loggerheads throughout the process. Generally, the agent represents the seller, while the lender is obtained by the buyer. Unfortunately, none of them can provide legal advice. Seeking an attorney to protect your own interests is a very good idea from the moment you decide to sell or buy a home until the time of the actual closing.

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