Real Estate Lawyers
What to Consider When Hiring a Real Estate Lawyer
Buying a home is a huge decision that must be weighed carefully. Many states have standardized purchase and sale contracts, which may allow these transactions to be completed without the assistance of an attorney. However, if any legal issues arise during the process, a real estate agent cannot handle those issues for you. Examples of situations when you may want to hire an attorney include when you are purchasing a home with someone else, when you are using a private loan to purchase the home, when you need to remove a current tenant from the home, or when a home is subject to liens or title issues. Many states also require an attorney to handle a real estate closing by law, even if neither the buyer nor the seller sought legal advice earlier in the process.
Homeownership is not always smooth sailing either. You might face a boundary dispute with your neighbor, for example, or you might need to litigate a construction dispute with a contractor that defrauded you or breached the terms of your agreement. If property is jointly owned, a dispute may arise among the co-owners. Some homeowners may not be able to keep up with their mortgage payments, which places them at risk of foreclosure. Thus, real estate attorneys may offer litigation services as well as transactional advice.
Deciding who is the right lawyer for you can be challenging. A basic Google search can be a good place to start, but this should be only a first step. Google searches will lead to a wide range of results, including many paid listings that do not necessarily reflect the skill of a lawyer or their aptitude for your case. Similarly, you might gain useful insights from talking to friends or family members who have hired a real estate lawyer, but the right fit for them may not be the right fit for you. Each situation is unique. Here are certain guidelines that can help you knowledgeably research and compare attorneys.
Background and Experience
You should hire a lawyer who has substantial experience assisting people in situations similar to yours. Real estate is a sophisticated area of law. Some attorneys focus on real estate closings or limit their practice to real estate transactions. Others have honed their courtroom skills and focus on adversarial proceedings. If you need advice on a private loan agreement or an unusual clause in your purchase and sale contract, you should retain an attorney who has reviewed many of these documents. If your neighbor refuses to stop encroaching on your property, you should hire a lawyer who is experienced in writing demand letters and filing quiet title actions. During a building permit dispute, you may want to hire an attorney who has represented property owners before local regulatory agencies. Some attorneys may have relevant board certifications or memberships in professional organizations. They may have received awards or other formal recognition of their legal prowess.
In general, you should aim to hire an attorney without a history of serious disciplinary issues. Information about an attorney’s professional record can be found by searching for them on the state bar website for their jurisdiction. You may want to review the details of any disciplinary action to get a sense of the events leading to it. Some violations are less significant than others. You may not want to automatically remove an attorney from your consideration based on a very minor infraction if they are currently in good standing.
On the other hand, a record of serious violations should be a red flag, even if the attorney has achieved some good results. You do not want egregious mistakes by your attorney to jeopardize your property interests.
Reviews and Testimonials
Reviews by previous clients can give you a sense of what it would be like to work with an attorney. You may find insights into their personality, level of professionalism, and communication skills. Client reviews can be helpful even if the details of your case are different from a previous client’s case. However, beware of very brief reviews that are harshly negative or effusively positive without providing details. These reviews may not be trustworthy.
If an attorney has received favorable reviews from other attorneys, this may indicate that they have a strong reputation in the legal community. They may be more likely to be respected by opposing counsel, regulatory agencies, and judges, which can help resolve your matter more favorably and efficiently.
Often, a real estate lawyer will discuss their most notable successes on their website or blog. Each matter is decided on its own facts, so you should not assume that you will receive the same outcome as a previous client. However, a history of positive results for people in roughly similar situations to yours can be a promising sign. You may also gain insight into the cases in which an attorney performs most impressively if many of their strongest results involve the same type of issue.
Some real estate lawyers offer free consultations to prospective clients, while others provide consultations for a modest fee. You can set up a consultation by phone or online after providing some initial details about your case. The consultation helps the client and the attorney decide whether they are the right fit for each other. Even if you are impressed by an attorney’s credentials and achievements, you should not choose them on that basis alone. Instead, you should make sure to work with a lawyer whom you can trust and who relates well to you. You should feel that your lawyer is personally invested in your situation, rather than treating you as just another case number. Ideally, you should set up consultations with several attorneys before deciding whom to hire.
Bringing a list of questions to the consultation can help you decide whether an attorney is the right fit. For example, you may want to describe your goals and ask how likely you are to attain them, based on what the attorney sees as the strengths and weaknesses of your position. An optimistic answer may be encouraging, but you should think twice if an attorney makes guarantees or seems much more confident than their competitors. They may be overpromising. Also, you should listen to how the attorney explains their evaluation. They should be able to articulate their reasoning in a way that is coherent and accessible to a non-lawyer.
Fees are another important issue to address at the consultation. While many real estate lawyers charge an hourly fee, others charge a fixed fee for a certain service in its entirety. You are more likely to pay an hourly fee if you are involved in complex litigation over your property rights, while a fixed fee is more common for document preparation, a standard closing, or other basic parts of the purchase and sale process. If you are buying a home in a state that requires an attorney to be present at the closing, the attorney fee will be included in the closing costs. The purchase and sale contract will determine who pays these costs, or how they are divided. Any fee arrangement should be clearly set out in the representation agreement so that you understand your obligations.
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