A real estate attorney specializes in the legal transfer of real property — or real estate — from buyer to seller. Real estate attorneys may be responsible for a variety of tasks, ranging from preparing documents to resolving conflicts between the buyer and the seller.
Most importantly, a real estate attorney helps the property-buying process move smoothly. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the role of a real estate attorney and when and how to hire one.
What does a real estate attorney do?
Real estate attorneys manage aspects of the property buying and selling process, such as:
- Preparing and reviewing documents, including the contract, deed, disclosures, and mortgage
- Confirming the seller is legally authorized to sell the property
- Researching and identifying claims against the property, like liens or unpaid loans
- Managing conflicts and ensuring both parties have fulfilled their contractual obligations
- Overseeing and hosting the closing
A real estate attorney may also ensure that the terms of the agreement actually align with their client’s expectations. Finally, your attorney will identify any issues that could stall the sale and work to resolve them as quickly as possible.
Who does a real estate attorney represent?
Real estate attorneys may represent the buyer, seller, mortgage provider, or the title company. As a result, you may encounter several attorneys during the buying or selling process. But remember: One attorney can’t represent multiple parties, so plan to hire your own.
How much does a real estate attorney cost?
Real estate attorneys can charge hundreds of dollars per hour. However, your actual costs may vary based on several factors, including:
- The services you need
- The attorney’s billing process (e.g., hourly fees versus flat rates)
- Your location
Typically, attorney fees are worked into your closing costs. Keep in mind that the estimate included on your loan forms may change based on the amount of work involved in your transaction and the lawyer you hire.
When to hire a real estate attorney
Deciding whether or not to hire a real estate attorney often comes down to the state in which you’re buying property. For example:
- Attorney closing states require you to retain an attorney throughout certain portions of the transaction (these portions can also vary by state).
- Attorney title opinion states only require a real estate or title attorney to review and certify the title.
- Some states don’t have any explicit requirements, but it’s understood that a real estate attorney will be involved in the process.
Check your state laws to see if they mandate a closing attorney’s supervision at any point of the process.
If you don’t live in a state that requires you to retain a lawyer for a home purchase, you can decide for yourself if you want to hire one to manage your transaction. Making the decision to do so comes down to your understanding of real estate law and your confidence in the pending transaction. If you’re new to the process or suspect you may run into roadblocks, it may be a good idea to hire an attorney.
How to find a real estate attorney
To find a property attorney, start by asking family members, friends, or colleagues for recommendations. If you live in a state that requires a residential real estate attorney, your real estate agent may be able to recommend a lawyer.
Visiting your state bar association website can provide more information. The website may also include a listing of real estate lawyers in your area.
But even before you seek out a lawyer, contact your human resources representative at work to ask about a legal insurance benefit. Legal insurance connects you with a network of experienced attorneys for a low monthly fee. There, you may be able to find a knowledgeable real estate attorney — and potentially save on attorney fees.
Enjoy an easier buying experience with the help of a real estate attorney
A real estate attorney can be an invaluable resource during the home-buying process, but they come at a cost. With that in mind, take some time to learn more about your employee benefits and determine if you have access to a legal insurance plan. That way, you can avoid costly missteps, mitigate issues quickly, and have a trusted guide each step of the way.