Selling your own home sometimes puts more of the sale price in your pocket, but you don’t want to scrimp when finding a professional to handle the property transfer. Choosing the right real estate attorney can turn a complex situation into a smooth transaction. There is a reason why everyone continues to use real estate agents, which, in some markets, act in place of the attorney for these things.
Instead of hiring the person who appears at the top of your real estate attorney internet search, take the time to interview a few attorneys in person and ask them these five questions:
What Percentage of Your Practice is Devoted to Real Estate Transactions?
According to David K. Blattner, an attorney based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the number of years an attorney has practiced isn’t as important to homebuyers and sellers as their type of practice or specialty. “There are attorneys located on every street corner and in every office building and shopping center,” he says. “Most small firms and solo practitioners practice door law; whatever walks in the door, they handle. This practice doesn’t work well for real estate clients, particularly residential clients.”
Asking what percentage of an attorney’s practice is devoted to real estate transactions may give you a better idea of the attorney’s real estate experience.
What Is Your Fee, and What Does It Include?
Fees and services can vary, so make sure you know what your attorney will charge and what rate you’ll receive. As Gary M. Singer, an attorney based in Sunrise, Florida, notes, “There really is no standard. Every attorney is different.” You should also ask whether or not the fee is a fixed or time-based fee.
Some services include reviewing contract, loan and title commitments; searching for liens; handling title and closing documents; verifying charges are correct and fair; attending the closing; confirming the title company completed its job after the closing; and answering questions and addressing concerns.
“Most important is the ability to recognize when something is out of the ordinary and react to fix it,” says Singer.
What Value Do You Offer?
You can find standard forms online, and attorney Rick Davis, based in Leawood, Kansas, suggests asking what the attorney offers above and beyond what is readily available. “If the attorney is simply filling in blanks on the standard real estate forms, they’re not providing much value to the homeowner, as they could do the same thing or have it done by a title company, assuming there is one,” he says. “The problem with standard forms is they’re written for standard transactions, and for-sale-by-owner sales generally aren’t standard transactions.”
Special situations, such as seller financing or unique terms, aren’t always included. “Irrelevant terms increase the likelihood of ambiguity in the contract, which can result in later issues,” Davis says. “An experienced real estate attorney should have their own forms and language for the unique characteristics of an individual sale. If the sale is routine enough for a standard form, the homeowner likely doesn’t need to hire an attorney for the transaction.”
What Issues Might Arise Before Closing?
Buyers and sellers should feel comfortable their attorney will be available when needed to resolve any difficulties that might arise.
“This might include disputes over repairs, resolution of title issues and appraisal issues,” says Blattner. “When possible, don’t sign the contract until you’ve hired your attorney and they’ve had the opportunity to review it and make suggestions to protect you and make the process easier.”
Will Anyone Else Work on My Case?
According to Bankrate, some law firms use junior attorneys or paralegals to complete some of the work, and if so, you should know this up front. During your consultation, ask to be introduced to anyone else who will handle your contract to make sure you’re comfortable with the person before proceeding.
The process of selling your own home shouldn’t be difficult, especially if you hire a real estate attorney to guide you along the way. Ask these questions to sort through and decide who’s the right professional to help you reach the end goal without worry.