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What Does a Real Estate Attorney do?
The real estate market can be fraught with many pitfalls. Acquiring or selling property can be a complex process. Commercial transactions can be even more troublesome considering the myriad of legal issues that can be involved. To understand the underlying issues, one must first understand the different types legal matters involved in real estate transactions.
Real estate transactions can involve many different issues. Purchases and sales of land, leases, zoning restrictions, easements, and environmental regulatory issues are just some of the issues that may come up in any one given situation. Most people will encounter more than one of the aforementioned issues at some point in their life. Often an individual in the real estate market will want to employ the services of an attorney to help them navigate these issues.
Real Estate Attorneys Involvement with Home Purchases
For instance, take a basic home purchase. A real estate attorney can serve several purposes in this type of transaction. A real estate attorney will help the buyer understand the transaction. In addition to helping draft the purchase and transfer documents, the attorney can explain what taking title to real property means and help a buyer understand the transfer of ownership that will occur. The attorney also serves as a check on the transaction itself by reviewing the deeds and record of title to ensure things like covenants and easements do not burden the property. Moreover, if the terms of the transaction are not followed appropriately, an attorney can assist in any litigation that needs to occur.
Real Estate Attorneys Involvement with Commercial Transactions
A purchaser of commercial property will also want to utilize the services of an attorney. Most neighborhoods have restrictions on commercial property called zoning regulations. There may be certain types of disclosures or insurance policies that need to be intact to secure the property. It's also possible that the federal government might be interested in the transaction due to the nature of the property, the property being previously owned by the government, or the transaction concern some environmental issue on the property. Also, if the purchaser of commercial property wants to lease the property to businesses, an attorney would be a good place to start as the law may differ significantly when it concerns commercial leases as opposed to residential leases.
Whether real estate transactions are for a home or an industrial factory, they always involve a significant transaction. The law considers property to be very important and that's why there are so many rules and regulations that follow a real estate transaction.
When would l need a Real Estate attorney?
Knowing when you may need an attorney can be a little bit trickier. If you're a college student that is moving in with a roommate into a campus apartment, would you need an attorney to look over the lease? Perhaps not (although it wouldn't hurt), but if you're entering into a five-year lease that includes an option to purchase the rental at the end of the term of the lease, you may want to have an attorney look at that paperwork.
The need for an attorney doesn't only apply to purchasers or lessees; it equally applies to sellers and landlords. Attorneys can help with titling and deed disputes that may arise if a purchaser refuses to purchase the land at closing because of an issue with the title record. A landlord may need to evict a tenant in violation of a lease through an unlawful detainer action, or a tenant may need to defend against an unlawful detainer action. Attorneys can be essential to either party of an unlawful detainer action as the matter often comes down to following a precise timing procedure and a proper analysis of landlord-tenant law.
Assistance with Property Investments
Attorneys don’t only assist with leases and new home purchases. Attorneys can be vital to property investors in a multitude of ways. Often, investors who “flip” houses usually turn to the services of an attorney to draft an initial partnership agreement for the real estate acquisition activities. The agreement will clearly set out the operation of the joint real estate venture and give all the parties involved peace of mind. An attorney can assist in the acquisition of distressed properties that have been foreclosed on or involved in a short sale. An attorney can also help with some more complicated transactions such as 1031 exchange where an initial investment property is sold in order to invest in a new property, such an “exchange” can lead to a deferral of capital gains taxes.
As mentioned above, always keep in mind that most property transactions are in some way significant and are due all the attention necessary to ensure that the transaction goes smoothly. Consulting an attorney will only enhance the chances that both parties are happy with the transaction in the end.
How to know if you need to speak to a Real Estate attorney
Are you selling a property with significant issues present in the transaction?
Are you a first time home buyer?
Do you not like or understand the terms included in the lease or sales documents?
Are you being evicted?
Do you need to evict a tenant?
How do you choose a Real Estate Attorney?
So how do you choose the right attorney, and understand that there will be a “right” attorney, you just need to take the appropriate steps to find the best one for you. Understanding who the right attorney is for you derives directly out of your understanding the type of transaction that is occurring.
If the transaction is one of the typical situations discussed above, then you are definitely on the right track. If the transaction is related to one of the situations mentioned above such as your mortgage is being foreclosed upon or you are a landlord who needs to evict a tenant, then you are definitely going to want to take the time to choose the right attorney. The steps below should help you in your search.
Step 1: Determine Your Needs
If you understand the type of transaction that you will be participating in or maybe even if you don't understand the transaction, but you know you need an attorney, you are off to a good start. Understanding the nature of the transaction will help you understand what type of lawyer you should seek.
You may need drafting and review assistance where you need an attorney to draft a real estate purchase document or review an already prepared real estate document. This may also play into how much contracting the services of an attorney may cost. Be mindful of just how complex the transaction involved is and how long it may take for an attorney to handle this matter.
From there, you will understand that if you have a somewhat complex commercial real estate transaction that involves federal and local regulations, you may want to seek out a larger firm that has attorneys that specialize in commercial real estate transactions. If you are just purchasing a condominium, a smaller firm or solo practitioner may suffice.
Step 2: Research Online
You should be doing as much research as possible during this initial phase. You will want to get as much information as possible before you start speaking with attorneys. You will want to learn some of the legal terms and processes used in your transaction. These terms are good to know beforehand so that you can fully understand the deluge of information you will encounter in the process.
The best place to start is with a simple online geographical area search for local real estate attorneys. Try to read as much information as is provided on the attorney's websites. You will want to get the name of a few attorneys that you can focus on. Look at the information that their websites provide. Often, attorneys will place testimonials on their websites or articles informing you on the areas of law they practice. Well detailed articles are often an indication that the attorney is well versed and knowledgeable about the subject area.
Once you have the name of a few attorneys that you are interested in, go to some review sites that allow you to see what other clients and attorneys say about the attorney's level of knowledge, efficiency, and demeanor. You will most likely have many questions, so you definitely want to see that other clients have commented on how personable and open to questioning the attorney has been.
Step 3: Check the State Bar Association’s Website for any Disciplinary History
Once you have a few specific names, you will want to take that name and search for any ethical violations or issues the attorney has had. Every state regulates the ethics of the individual attorneys licensed to practice within the state. The bar association takes every complaint against an attorney seriously. If there have been any issues, you are certain to see them listed within the attorney's profile.
Pay very close attention to the facts or charges that may be present on the profile. You may want to think twice about employing an attorney who has been suspended in the past or has had a multitude of ethical violation charges brought against them
Step 4: Schedule an Appointment with a Real Estate Attorney
Once you have gathered all the above information, you will then want to pick 2 or 3 to speak with if you can. Schedule an appointment to speak with an attorney as soon as you can. If you are having a hard time making a decision, compare everything that you have found.
Make some preliminary determinations on what is most important to you. Is price a big factor? If so make a sure that fees are a subject of discussion in your consult. Attorneys are ethically required to explain fees so the attorney should have no problem explaining their fee arrangement at a consult.
For a real estate attorney, you will want to make sure you let the attorney know as much information about the transaction as possible before meeting with them. It will allow for a more substantive conversation once you get there.