Do I Need a Real Estate Attorney?

By Michael Cohen, Cohen Schneider & O’Neill


A home is likely one of the biggest financial purchases you will make, and you may be overwhelmed by all the people involved with the process: real estate agents, mortgage brokers, appraisers, inspectors. There’s also the option of a real estate attorney. Hiring a real estate attorney may seem like just another person and an added cost, but this cost could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the long run.

How do you know if you actually need to hire a real estate attorney? Knowing what a real estate attorney does is the first step to ensuring that you and your family are in the best position to make a decision before buying a home.

What is a Real Estate Attorney’s Purpose?

While most basic transactions in most states don’t require a real estate attorney, there are still many situations in which an attorney is not only helpful, but necessary.

A real estate attorney can serve multiple purposes. He advises the prospective homeowner’s search for the best property, assists in dealing with brokers, oversees the negotiation and execution of a contract of sale, implements the procurement of a mortgage and attends the closing of the mortgage where the deed is transferred, to name a few.

When buying a new home, you’ll want to hire an attorney if:

You’re from out of town
The property has potential physical damages
The land is owned by the bank
The area is subject to adverse weather (floods, tornados, hurricanes, etc.)
A real estate attorney can be just as useful when selling a house as when buying. Examples of this include:

If you’re selling land of a deceased relative
If the property has structural problems
If you have a history of property liens (due to debt)
Does a Real Estate Attorney Differ By State?

The main factor in determining whether or not you need a real estate attorney is your location. Since some states require the assistance of an attorney and others don’t, it’s best to ask your real estate agent what the policies are in the state and region in which you’re purchasing your property.

Each state decides how to handle home closings. Georgia, South Carolina and Massachusetts, for example, require that an attorney be physically present for each real estate transaction. Some states, such as North Carolina and Alabama, limit the amount of power a non-attorney can have in closings, including drafting legal documents and giving certain legal advice. These laws can often be vague and difficult to understand without the interpretation of an attorney.

What Should I Ask a Real Estate Attorney?

It’s always in your best interest to come prepared with a list of questions when choosing your real estate attorney. You want to select someone with whom you are comfortable and someone who is experienced with your specific type of transaction.

There are many questions that you could consider asking a real estate attorney, but a few specifics you should be sure to inquire about are:

How long have you been a real estate attorney?
How many similar transactions have you dealt with before?
How would you handle my case?
Can you tell me your overall strategy?
Will you specifically work on my case and attend my closing or will your paralegal or someone else in your office handle it?
Does your fee include due diligence?
About Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen has been representing clients in personal and business transactions for over 35 years. He specializes in residential and commercial real estate law, probate law, matrimonial law, and commercial litigation. He received his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, and he was recently awarded with the New York State Bar Association Presidents Pro Bono Service Award for his pro bono work.