If buying or selling property feels overwhelming and the thought of finding a good real estate lawyer seems daunting, you’re in luck. There are some simple steps to follow for finding a trustworthy, affordable real estate lawyer to help with your property and legal needs.
- Determine what kind of real estate lawyer you need. Many states require a real estate attorney to handle sale closing documents. For more complex matters such as a real estate deal gone awry or foreclosure, you’ll want to find an attorney who has successfully handled cases like yours.
- Look for online reviews of real estate lawyers in your area. Verify that they have proven experience closing or winning cases like yours and that they are in good standing with the state bar association.
- Choose two or three lawyers to interview. Many offer a free consultation to learn about your case and provide information about rates. For standard real estate closing services, in-depth interviewing might not be necessary.
- Ask about their rates and whether they charge by the hour or provide services for a flat fee. Ask whether a retainer is required, and what the total bill should be for a case like yours.
- Ask for a write-up of the services that will be covered by the projected costs.
- Make sure you like the real estate agent and they treat you with respect. Confirm whether they or another person will be working on your case and make sure you’re comfortable with all members of their team.
- Pay the retainer and hire your lawyer.
A real estate lawyer represents their client’s best interest in all matters related to the sale, purchase and ownership of real estate. They are experts in real estate law. In states that require a real estate lawyer to close home sales, the lawyer must review and finalize all documents before the deal can be legally completed. Real estate lawyers also help clients legally protect their rights when entering, exiting or renegotiating a real estate deal. You can hire a real estate lawyer as an individual or as a business. A real estate lawyer can help with negotiation, addressing mortgage fraud, managing foreclosures and bankruptcy, transfers of titles and deeds, property ownership disputes, zoning issues, creating a co-ownership contract for joint purchase of a property, and much more. Real estate lawyers can also protect you from issues that result when a known problem was not properly disclosed by the previous owner. Overall, real estate lawyers are an added cost when it comes to buying and selling property, but they also ensure your best interests are met, and that you and the people you are doing business with comply with the law.
No one likes talking about death, but it’s better than leaving your children or siblings to sort out your estate. A clearly planned will can make the time of mourning easier for everyone. An estate attorney will develop a legal will, create trusts on your behalf, and ensure the proper execution of your estate after you pass away.
Family attorneys and estate attorneys, also called probate and wills attorneys, can each prepare wills. The type of lawyer best suited to prepare your will depends on your situation. Most family attorneys provide services to prepare basic wills, including bequeathing property and personal items to family or naming a guardian for minor children. However, estate attorneys specialize in preparing wills in more complex situations. Consider hiring an estate attorney if you:
- Have a large number of assets, especially those subject to estate taxes
- Want to create a trust, such as allowing a spouse to live in your home until he or she dies and then leaving it to your children, or set up long-term care for a beneficiary
- Have an ownership stake in a business
- Expect someone to contest your will
- Want to disinherit your spouse
Whether you need a real estate lawyer depends on what kind of legal assistance you need. In many states (such as Vermont and Maine), you are required to hire a real estate lawyer to handle the closing documents of a home sale. The lawyer may prepare the deed, examine the title, review purchase and sale paperwork, work directly with the lender, and more. In title states such as California and Nevada, you do not need a real estate lawyer to buy or sell a home. Typically sales are handled by escrow agents, title companies or lenders. However, you may opt to hire a real estate lawyer to handle closing — even if it’s not required — to ensure your interests are protected.
You may also need a real estate lawyer are when you are negotiating a large property purchase or development deal, or if you are declaring bankruptcy or have a property that’s going into foreclosure. If a property dispute has escalated beyond mediation, a real estate lawyer can advocate for your interests. If you prefer to remain (relatively) anonymous in property ownership, you may have a real estate lawyer represent you and negotiate deals for you. It can be a costly investment, with national average hourly rates ranging from $150 to $350 or more, but legal representation can offer peace of mind and protection of your financial interests.
Either a family attorney or an estate, or wills, attorney can help you prepare a living will, either as part of your general estate planning or as an individual document. The cost typically ranges from $250 to $500, depending on your attorney’s fees; some charge by the hour, while others have a flat rate for writing a living will. Some states require living wills to be notarized, which adds an average of $5 to $15. In a living will — also called an advanced healthcare directive — you specify whether you want to be kept on life support if you become terminally ill or lapse into a persistent vegetative state. You can also answer other important questions in a living will like your preferences for tube feeding, artificial hydration and pain medication in situations when you cannot communicate your wishes on your own.