A home is an enormous investment, and as with any big purchase, it’s tempting to cut corners wherever possible. Hiring a real estate attorney is often deemed an unnecessary expense during a straightforward purchase — after all, your agent is there to allay any concerns. But of course, there’s no way of knowing what questions or crises are going to arise during the prolonged purchase process of that home for sale in Philadelphia, PA.
Here are six reasons to consider securing a real estate attorney before beginning the home-shopping process. (Side note: If you’re buying in Georgia, Massachusetts, or South Carolina, the law actually requires that you have a lawyer present for every real estate transaction.)
They will read everything
If you’ve purchased a home before, or know someone who has purchased a home before, or have watched a movie or TV show where someone purchased a home, you know the deal: The volume of paperwork is insane. It’s tempting to throw up your hands and stop reading after the fifth encrypted email from your mortgage lender, but that’s the way money gets wasted — little extra costs here and there can really add up.
Your attorney will read through it all and immediately raise any concerns, from unforeseen fees to a tight mortgage rate expiration date to missing items on a punch list. Even if there are no obvious red flags, your attorney becomes familiar with the details of your purchase and can easily refer back to the documents if questions come up.
They can help you navigate the stress of selling and buying at the same time
Is yours a contingency purchase? If so, the home-buying process just got twice as complicated. Negotiating a purchase and sale agreement (P&S), then showing your current property and signing a P&S on that end, then winding your way through the haggling that then happens on both fronts can lead to high volumes of stress and sometimes bad decision making. An attorney can fight for your rights on both sides, juggling multiple questions while you try not to have a nervous breakdown. And — bonus! — they can represent you at the closing of the place you’re selling, so no need for you to show up to that meeting.
They will draft (or review) any amendments
Amendments are common during the purchase process. In a contingency purchase, the sale of your home might get pushed back a month, which then mandates a closing delay on the other end. Purchase prices can be negotiated, especially if an appraisal turns up unforeseen repairs that need to be addressed before closing, or Mother Nature causes some last-minute damage (say, a big windstorm rips off the roof of your home a week before closing).
Your lawyer will either write up the appropriate amendment or review anything drafted by the seller’s attorney while you stay out of the fray, and later have the documents explained to you in layman’s terms.
They can speak to issues concerning tenancy and eviction
Many buyers search for a home with an attached rental unit as a way to help pay the mortgage. But these structures usually have tenants already in place, and if you’re looking to renovate the space to increase the rent, for example, getting existing tenants out isn’t always a cut-and-dried process. Or what if a condo seller has been renting out her place while it’s been on the market and the tenant signed a long-term lease — what are your options then? A lawyer can break down all the contingencies and suggest ways you can use complicated tenant situations to your negotiating advantage.
They will be there for the closing
Usually the most taxing thing that comes up during closing day is the hand cramps from signing so many documents. But you should always expect the unexpected, from that unforeseen lien the seller’s plumber snuck in to a 4-year-old homeowners’ association lawsuit that has yet to be resolved. Your attorney can address these issues on the spot, help figure out a reasonable short-term solution that allows the closing to proceed, or even advise you to delay or walk away from the purchase if the land mines are inescapable.
They will assuage your fears
Can you really have too many people on your side during a home purchase? Unless you’re downsizing, this home is likely the biggest purchase of your life, so it pays — sometimes literally — to have an extra player on your team. A real estate attorney is going to answer every last legal concern with a confidence you can’t get from anyone else; even if the purchase ends up going off without a hitch, you’ve had an extra resource throughout the transaction and can have faith that you didn’t get taken advantage of during the home-buying process.
Did you use a real estate attorney for your home sale? Share your experiences in the comments!