You have a responses from a RE Pros from different states. When reviewing the input, I wanted to call your attention to the fact that settlement practices vary state by state and even varies by regions within a state.
As a former CA resident who has bought and sold property in CA, my closing experiences in CA have all been with escrow companies and I did not have an attorney. I was not a Realtor at the time. I currently reside in NJ and am now a licensed real estate broker in NJ and FL. The settlement agent in NJ is typically an attorney; and preferably one who specializes in real estate. Earnest money deposits, wire transfers, and checks at settlement are quite often collected and dispersed by an attorney in NJ. Your Realtor can provide you guidance and details about CA, as the protocol will be quite different.
Perhaps a few local CA Realtors can chime in and let you know how often their clientsâ€™ transactions are closed with or without an attorney, and a discussion on what tasks and role the attorney does assume in CA when one is retained. You might hear that it is not necessary to have an attorney in CA. As Toby stated, you might still feel more comfortable with having an attorney review your docs, and that always remains you choice.
The thread that Patti provided is excellent. Do keep in mind that the Q poster on the linked thread was in NY, and many of the answers were from NY RE Pros or addressing the transfer of property in NY. A CA REPro mentioned on that thread that in CA most closings were done w/o an attorney. I did not interpret the post by the CA Realtor on that thread to suggest that a NY buyer/seller should not retain an attorney, but rather that she simply shared info about how settlement procedures may differ in one area vs. another.
I agree w/ Sylvia that you can ask your Realtor for guidance about the closing process for your area. If you express interest in having an attorney, particularly if you have specific unanswered questions, suspect complications, or you see any red flags, your Realtor can probably refer you to practicing real estate attorneys in your area.
If it is a cash deal being closed outside of a title company then the answer is easy -- YES!
However, if there is both a closing company and a mortgage, then it comes down to your comfort level. I always suggest an attorney, but have had very few actually use one. The average is only about $300 (in Ohio) to review the contract and documents and make sure that you are being represented well at closing.
Ann is from CA, and we don't require using a real estate lawyer here, so if she has a Realtor, she should follow her Realtor's advise; but if she does not have a Realtor, then a lawyer's advise is much needed.
Get referrals from friends and family or in the alternative, call a local real estate agency and ask them to recommend THREE attorneys. Interview each of them and determine which you are most comfortable.