16 Mar 2016

Do You Really Need a Real Estate Lawyer?

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Whether you’re a real estate pro or not, it’s a good idea to hire an attorney for an additional set of eyes when purchasing your property. When things go smoothly —  and they usually do — the amount of time the attorney works is generally minimal. When things go wrong, having a lawyer familiar enough to handle any legal particulars can save you time and money.

Here are five instances where an attorney makes sense in addition to a real estate pro:

But before that, learn more about the role of a real estate lawyer:

1.  Your First, and Subsequent, Home Purchases

Under contractNo doubt you have a buyer’s agent representing you to help you negotiate the best price, find the right home, and move the sale along expertly and efficiently. But if you want legal advice, only an attorney can do that. Plus, an attorney can spot legal red flags before they become big issues.

A friend of mine bought a property where the fence was built well over the property line. Her attorney noticed the issue at closing and convinced the sellers to pay to have the fence moved where it belonged.

Another friend was alerted by an attorney that the home she was buying had a deck that wasn’t approved by the community association and was built over the neighbor’s property. The attorney worked with the HOA to get deck approved. And the sellers paid to rebuild it so it was no longer on the neighbor’s property.

Even if you don’t experience these kinds of issues in your purchase or sale (and I hope you don’t), an attorney:

  • Gives you an additional review of the contract and contingencies involved in what is likely the biggest purchase you’ll ever make.
  • Stops you from signing optional closing documents that aren’t in your best interest. If your title company slips you a release absolving it of negligence even if it does something wrong during your closing, you might not notice it among the plethora of papers you’re signing. But, your attorney’s going to catch it.

2.  Investment Rentals

My family and I are huge fans of investing in vacation or rental properties, which we sometimes renovate and resell. We once bought a single-family investment home that came with a set of rather difficult tenants.

Local law gives tenants the right of first refusal on whether to purchase the unit. They said they wanted to buy but couldn’t qualify. As the issue dragged out, the attorney advised us through the unfortunate eviction process.

When you invest in a home you plan to rent out, an attorney can guide you through an eviction as well as zoning, building, health code, and local or state rental laws that affect your property.

You may also want to talk to your lawyer about the different ways to hold title to your investment property. Our attorney in Pennsylvania told us to hold title there as a limited liability company to shield us if we were ever sued. When tenants there set our house on fire (twice!) then sued us for disposing of their water-saturated, moldy possessions weeks after the fire department declared the house uninhabitable, the LLC did, indeed, protect us.

By the way, the vast majority of our investments have been rewarding experiences. But having legal counsel in the wings sure comes in handy when the unexpected occurs.

3.  Foreclosed Homes

You’ve probably heard about the great deals you can get when you buy a foreclosed home at a foreclosure sale. But you rarely hear about the risks. An attorney can help you deal with those risks, if necessary.

Risks vary from place to place because each local jurisdiction that holds a foreclosure sale sets its own rules. A county might allow homeowners whose properties are sold at a foreclosure auction to buy back their homes within a set time period, such as a year. Another may offer foreclosed homes with liens, or claims against the property, attached. And at some foreclosure sales, property liens transfer along with the property — meaning you’ll have to pay off the liens if you buy the property.

4.  Land

We’ve never bought land, but if you’re purchasing land to build a custom home or buying an undeveloped lot and seeking approval to build, it would make sense to hire an attorney. You could run into issues with zoning, titles, undisclosed environmental hazards, or a new highway scheduled to cut through your backyard — just to name a few potential problems.

An attorney can make sure you get clear title with no access issues; figure out what can be built on any nearby lots; and advocate for you if an inspection turns up a serious environmental concern like toxic waste.

5.  Short Sales

Thankfully, we’ve never had to do a short sale, where you sell your home for less than you owe on the mortgage. If we ever do, besides working with a REALTOR® who’s skilled in these transactions, I would definitely have an attorney review the paperwork to make sure the lender had no right to come after us to recoup its loss after the sale was finalized.

Your real estate agent is the key player in your property transaction. But when it comes to the biggest purchase you’ll likely ever make, it’s smart to have an attorney on hand, ready to field any legal issues that might crop up.

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Neil Gortler
CBR, SRES - Licensed Real Estate Salesperson

Phone: 516.849.5895 | neil@neilgortler.com

As an experienced professional Neil will do the leg work, keeping you up-to-date with new listings and the various market conditions that may impact the home purchase process. Sellers can also benefit from his skills in finance, negotiation, contractual agreements, and RE marketing. Call today and allow Neil to guide you through the complexities of buying or selling your home, eliminating hassles, and stress.

Member of:
National Association of Realtors
Long Island Board of Realtors
Multiple listing service of long Island
New York State Association of Realtors

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