The information in this answer provided by Attorney Ranj Mohip is general information and is not intended as legal advice, nor does the attorney intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any reader by answering this question or otherwise contributing as a member of Trulia.com.
Again, I'm agreeing with Elvis (I think I'm tailing him today). In MI our RE attorney charged by the MINUTE for an eviction. We spent thousands of dollars on her. Our IL RE attorney has been the best bargain ever. A flat fee for the entire transaction and all my annoying questions and debating. I paid an extra $50 for a quit claim and have to pay another $50 because the first buyer fell through but I don't have to pay $350 for the first and second buyers even though my attorney is doing almost double the work. I'm pretty sure I have gotten a couple of free notaries out of the deal too.
One of the things I would be concerned about with a general lawyer is turning a mountain into a mole hill.
Would you call your plumber if the roof got damaged by a tree.?
Why not.? .. they all have hammers and a wrench --- same goes with attorneys.
Realtors make plenty of mistakes, title companies make even more .... contracts get whited and crossed out all the time with all the parties sitting at the table, and 15 minutes later someone goes brain dead and wants to change it, burn it or sue over it .. it happens every second of everyday.
Always have your own real estate attorney and have him look at everything before, during and after.
If you'll notice, you'll always see a good divorce attorney with a great real estate attorney.!
What is the advantage? You'll have an attorney who won't have to call the other side's attorney for advice.
Cost? $500. Savings? Potentially THOUSANDS.
I had a client who had his family attorney do the transaction - he called me to ask how to calculate the tax proration. This is second nature to the attorney who does real estate law.
1) RE attorney has an intimate knowledge about how RE transactions work, and the deadlines involved. It is like falling-off-a-bicycle for them, and the general attorney has learning curve to get up to speed, and doesn't have the time to do it. I have seen big time downtown attorneys have circles run around them, by a good RE attorney. Hire a specialist... this is all they do.
2) RE attorneys charge by the transaction. Chicago area, common fee would be approx. somewhere between $350.00 to as high as $1,000.00 (depending on the attorney) flat fee. General attorneys usually charge by the 1/4 hour, or the 1/2 hour, and will charge you for every phone call, every fax, every letter. Sometimes you'll pay as high as several hundred dollars per hour, racking up thousands of dollars in bills.
If you are confident that nothing can or will go wrong on your deal, AND you do not want to ask for advice or guidance AND you make a good selection, a good lawyer is going to be a good lawyer, regardless of his or her focus on a specialty practice area (or if she is a general practitioner).
On the other hand, if you want to have questions answered, or you want someone who is prepared to help meet unforeseen problems and contingencies, you will be better served by someone who has more familiarity and experience in the nuances of the various contracts, ordinances, customs and practices that can vary from community to community.
Going against the main stream on this, I will humbly suggest that ultimately, the level of service (the amount of attention) your lawyer will devote to your transaction should be a greater consideration than the notion of whether your lawyer does other things in addition to practicing real estate law. Sure your lawyer should have core competence, but as I stated at the outset, a great many do.
My practice is devoted (nearly exclusively) to real estate transactions. I deal with "experienced" lawyers all the time. Sadly, some are just "too busy" to answer or return phone calls or follow up on contract matters. Others farm all their work out to secretaries or paralegals and have almost no client contact at all. I'll take an attentive general attorney over an indifferent "expert" any day of the week.
Litigation attorneys are in the zero sum business of defeating their opponents at any cost. Real estate attorneys are in the business of protecting their clients interests without alienating the other side and reducing the likelihood of closing.
FYI, the insurance contingency clause you mentioned, was put into the most recent Multi-board contract to protect home buyers from getting into a situation were they go under contract and beyond the continguency period, to findout that the house is uninsurable (due to prior claims). This also can be a benifit to findout if claims were used to correct defects not disclosed. The contingency does nothing more then give the prospective buyer the opportunity to investigate that the house is insurable and how much obtaining insurance will cost. You realize without homeoweners insurance, a title policy will not be issue and thus the loan will not be funded.(i.e. no sale).
If you are looking at new construction or a purchase that uses a developers contract then I would only recommand a Real Estate Attorney. Those agreements were written by the seller/builder and are created to protect their best interest with respect to IL Real Estate Law. If you need a recommendation for a attorney let me know.
Very good questions. My experience (16 years) is that is is vital to work with an attorney that specializes in Real Estate transactions. Like any big decision I firmly believe that when you cross the T's and dot I's you will not regret the experience.
Patrick J. Tivnan
An attorney charges for their time, including research. A general attorney may have to research some issues that a real estate attorney will already know. If so, that will cost you more.
I personally have seen more hiccups in deals where a buyer used a general attorney, instead of a real estate attorney e.g. lack of familiarity with documents needed for the lender. And if you do have a dispute, I really want the specialist representing me.