Understanding Real Estate Attorneys

Do I need to hire a real estate attorney? Find out if your state requires an attorney to sell your home and where to find top lawyers near you.

Things to Keep in Mind

The contracts and complexities of a real estate transaction make it difficult for most buyers and sellers to negotiate and conduct the sale of a property without professional advice. In some complicated scenarios, you may need to enlist the help of a real estate attorney. For some experienced buyers and sellers, in fact, a real estate attorney may be preferable to a real estate agent or broker.

What does a real estate attorney do?

 A real estate attorney can provide a range of services, from drawing up a sales contract to advising buyers and sellers on the legal issues surrounding rentals, zoning, permits, and other aspects of real estate ownership and transactions.

What does a real estate attorney do for a seller? For a buyer?

For both buyers and sellers, a real estate attorney can do all of the following:

  1. Advise the client regarding relevant zoning and building codes
  2. Advise the client regarding tenant and leasing regulations
  3. Help the client with legal definitions and questions
  4. Draw up a bill of sale, contingencies, and other relevant agreements
  5. Prepare closing documents and facilitate the closing process.

Can I use a real estate attorney instead of a real estate agent?

In some states you are required to use a real estate attorney for the closing of your real estate transaction. These include: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In any state, you can use a real estate attorney instead of a real estate agent. Some buyers and sellers prefer to do so for the following reasons:

  1. In order to protect themselves legally in the case of particularly complex transactions
  2. Because they have had a negative experience with an unscrupulous or incompetent real estate agent or broker
  3. In order to avoid paying the commission to a real estate agent
  4. In the event that they are negotiating the sale of a FSBO (For Sale by Owner) property
  5. Because they have a great deal of experience with real estate transactions and need only minimal assistance
  6. Because they are completing a transaction directly with a close friend or family member and need only minimal assistance.

Types of real estate lawyers

There are a variety of real estate attorneys who specialize in various aspects of the real estate sale, purchase, and ownership process. 

Landlord tenant attorney

A real estate attorney who specializes in landlord and tenant issues is a valuable resource for those who are buying an investment property which they intend to lease or for homeowners who plan to lease a portion of their property -- like a lower level apartment or a carriage house on the grounds -- to a tenant. 

Estate attorneys

Estate attorneys specialize in the planning, distribution, and oversight of property as part of an inheritance. An estate attorney may help plan ahead for the disposition of an estate, including assets like real estate, through a trust or foundation. In addition, he or she will supervise the will and probate process and the distribution of inherited assets to the heirs. An estate attorney may also function as the Trustee of a will in order to supervise ongoing distribution of dividends from a trust or fund.

Mortgage attorney

A mortgage attorney specializes in issues related to foreclosures, loan modifications, and other aspects of the financing of real estate. You may need to consult a mortgage attorney in the event that you fall behind on your mortgage payments or in case your mortgage company has taken action against you for non-payment.

How do I choose a real estate attorney?

It is in your best interest to engage the services of a real estate attorney who is well-qualified in the particular area of law that you need. Find one who specializes in real estate law, and, if necessary, in the particular sub-category of real estate law that you are interested in. 

If you already have a personal attorney, ask if he or she can refer you to a real estate attorney in your area. Consult your state’s bar association for a list of qualified real estate attorneys and look at online reviews to determine how well they serve their clients.

Most of all, look for someone with whom you work well and feel comfortable and who is responsive to communication. You don’t want to have an important question go unanswered because your real estate attorney is too busy to help.

How much does a real estate attorney cost?

Some real estate attorneys charge by the hour, at prices ranging from $150-350, while others charge a flat fee for particular services, like sales contract preparation or closing documents. Attorney fees for real estate closings can range from $500-$1500, though they can be much higher in the event of particularly complex negotiations or transactions.

To take the guesswork out of closing and simplify the process, turn to Endpoint, an online closing platform with decades of experience in closing and settlement, combined with high tech innovations to streamline every step of the transaction.

Learn more about Endpoint’s solutions or continue reading our Step-by-Step Guide.