Do You Need an Attorney if You Are Buying or Selling a Home?

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Paying an attorney for a couple of visits before all of the paperwork is signed may be worth the expense.

Before You Sign, Call an Attorney

Buying or selling a home has become a streamlined process where real estate firms, and their in-house attorneys, can help you with nearly all of the legal necessities along the way. It's entirely possible to buy or sell a home without independently hiring an attorney. However, paying an attorney for a couple of visits to review legal details in the transaction may be worth the time and expense before all of the paperwork is signed.

Legal Perspective on the Contract

Like it or not, buying and selling real estate involves at least one contract and often a lot of paperwork written a language only a lawyer could love. The contract can be typed or even handwritten. It can be called a "Letter of Agreement" or a "Letter of Understanding". Whatever form or name, if the contract meets legal requirements, and is signed by both the buyer and seller, it will be legally binding.

Having an attorney review the contract can help prevent problems from arising. You don't want to discover that you have signed away important rights, failed to include important protections, or failed to receive what you expected. And avoid any kind of oral promise or negotiation - no matter how seemingly small. Verbally agreeing to have the water heater replaced may simply mean that the water heater is not going to be replaced. As they say, get it in writing, and while you're at it, have a lawyer look it over.

When it comes to legal advice, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. An attorney's perspective is much more helpful and very likely much less expensive before all of the papers are signed than after.

If You Are Selling a Home

If you are selling your home with the help of a real estate agent, you might be tempted to put off engaging an attorney. Since it could actually cost less to hire an attorney earlier in the process than later, resist that temptation and consult with an attorney before signing a listing agreement with a real estate agent. You want to be sure that the listing agreement between you and a real estate firm has all of the legal detail to ensure the fiduciary responsibility of the firm.

If you are selling your home without the help of a real estate agent, bring an attorney and an appraiser into the process right away. An appraiser can help you establish a price for your home. An attorney can help you with the legal issues, legal filings, and other necessary documentation.

If You Are Buying a Home

Since it doesn't necessarily cost any more to consult with a lawyer at the beginning of your home-buying process than later, engage an attorney once you have begun your search for a home. That way, if a good purchasing opportunity arises right away, you will not have to establish a relationship with a lawyer at the same time. You will be ready.

If you are working with a buyer's agent, have your lawyer review any contracts or agreements you have with the agent before you sign.

At the latest, bring your attorney into the process when you are ready to make an offer and certainly before you sign an offer to purchase.

How Do You Choose an Attorney?

The process of selecting an attorney is similar to that of choosing a real estate agent. Talk with your friends, family, and coworkers. Get their experience and advice, and find out what worked for them and what didn't. Like a real estate agent, find an attorney you like, who is clearly working efficiently to simplify your experience, not arbitrarily manufacture legal complications.

Because you will meet with your attorney review documents, and because your attorney will probably be present at the closing, you will save a lot of time and headache with a local attorney that is a short distance away. You want a lawyer who is generally familiar and has recent experience with real estate laws in your area.

Odds are good that your real estate agent has a short list of attorneys they like and will ensure that your interests are protected.

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