What Does a Real Estate Attorney Do (and Do You Need One)?

Everything From Reviewing Contracts to Investigating Title

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If you’re buying or selling a home, you may be wondering if you need to hire a real estate attorney. In some states or localities, you’re required to. But even if it’s optional, having a lawyer on your side could be in your best interest. 

Learn more about what real estate attorneys do, the reasons you might need to hire one, and how to find an attorney.

Key Takeaways

  • Real estate attorneys help facilitate real estate transactions. They review contracts, negotiate agreements between buyers and sellers, give title opinions, attend closings, and more.
  • Some states or localities require that buyers and/or sellers retain a real estate attorney for certain parts of the real estate transaction, such as the closing.
  • Even if not required, hiring a real estate attorney may be a wise investment, especially for short sales, if you’re buying or selling from out-of-town, or in situations with tricky property concerns.  
  • The cost of a real estate attorney varies, but having someone advocate on your behalf can be worth the cost.

What Does a Real Estate Attorney Do?

Real estate attorneys are lawyers who specialize in real estate transactions including facilitating home sales, representing clients in property disputes and other litigation, and conducting investigations regarding a property’s liabilities and compliance.

Real estate law is a branch of law in which attorneys specialize in servicing clients regarding “real property” issues. Real property includes homes, commercial buildings, retail spaces, commercial facilities, land, and other spaces. 

When Should You Hire a Real Estate Attorney?

State laws vary regarding whether or not a real estate attorney must be involved in a real estate transaction, and in what way. In some states, there must be a real estate attorney physically present at the closing, while in others, attorneys must issue a title opinion. Many states do not mandate that a real estate attorney be involved at all. In those areas, it might still be worthwhile to consult with a lawyer to help ensure that the contract details are favorable, all the documents are in order, as well as to handle any complex issues that may arise.

Laws around real estate transactions vary by locality, so be sure to discuss the need for an attorney with your real estate agent or broker.

How To Find a Real Estate Attorney

Finding a real estate attorney shouldn’t be too difficult, but your goal should be to hire someone who is reasonably priced, has a strong reputation, and who makes themselves available to you when needed. Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding a real estate attorney. 

Ask for Referrals

You can start by asking family and friends who’ve recently bought or sold a home for their recommendations. In addition, your real estate agent or mortgage broker will likely be able to refer you to real estate attorneys with whom they’ve worked.

Do Some Digging

Next, check with your state bar association’s website or give a call to be sure that the attorneys you plan to contact are licensed to practice. You can also use the internet to read reviews to make sure the attorney has a good reputation.

Set a Meeting

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to two or three, ask for a consultation so you can ask questions, get a price quote, and make sure there is a personality fit as well.

Real estate attorneys should have a firm knowledge of all the local housing laws, and be responsive and accessible to you. If you’re purchasing a particular kind of real estate such as a condo or co-op, ask the attorney about their experience with those types of properties.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much does a real estate attorney cost?

Real estate attorney fees are part of your closing costs, and range widely depending on where you’re located. You may be charged by the hour, or in some cases, an attorney may charge you a flat fee. According to Thumbtack, which tracks real estate lawyer fee estimates, the average hourly rate is between $200 and $250 per hour. 

When should you hire a real estate attorney?

If your state or locality requires a real estate attorney for the closing or to give a title opinion, then it’s a definite for you. Many people bring an attorney on board once the real estate contract is drawn up, that way they can make sure there is nothing unexpected in the contract and they can negotiate on your behalf. It’s also advisable to hire a real estate attorney for more complicated real estate transactions, such as short sales, foreclosures, buying a co-op, purchasing investment properties, dealing with zoning laws, etc.

How do you choose a real estate attorney?

Most people will choose a real estate attorney based on a referral from someone they know, or on the advice of the real estate professionals they are using. It’s always smart to take an extra step or two to vet an attorney before you hire them.

What should you ask a real estate attorney before hiring them?

Before hiring a real estate attorney, you should start by gauging their experience level, especially for the particular type of real estate transaction you’re engaged in. You can also ask about their availability and how and when you can reach them if questions arise. Finally, ask about pricing.