The Real Estate Attorney
Although many people will be happy to inject their opinion, an attorney is the only one qualified to give you legal advice. And legal advice is just what you need when you're buying or selling a home. The truth is. a lot of things can po-tentially go wrong—before, during, and beyond your closing. Hiring an attorney can help head off issues before they become problems. By choosing to use an attorney, you do yourself the favor of ensuring a smoother transaction.
One of the greatest benefits of using an attorney is that he or she has a legal and ethical obligation to work in your best interest. That means answering a lot of nitty-gritty questions, including some very important ones that you may or may not know to ask.
BUYING A HOME?
Here are sorne important questions an attorney can answer for you.
• Why do I need title insurance?
• What are my income, estate, and gift tax consequences?
• What do I need to know about the property's taxes, zoning, or special assessments?
• How will I handle probate issues?
• Is the property's recorded legal description accurate?
• How can I simplify a future sale?
• Are there any legalities preventing me from using the property as I wish?
• Will the title to the property be marketable if I decide to refinance later?
• What is the seller's liability after the sale?
• What kind of property taxes can I expect?
• Where do I file for homestead tax exemption?
SELLING A HOME?
Here are some important questions an attorney can answer for you:
• What are my income, estate, and gift tax consequences?
• What is the status of my title? Is it free of defects?
• What is "seller disclosure?"
• What sort of things do I have to disclose to a buyer?
• Am I at risk for a lawsuit if I don't disclose my home's defects to a buyer?
• How can I respond to a buyer's contract contingencies?
• What if the buyer's offer is contingent upon the sale of his own home?
• If the buyer takes over my mortgage payments, what is my liability should the buyer default on the loan?
When is The Best Time to Hire an Attorney?
Whether you're buying or selling a home. the earlier in the process an attorney is involved the better. Since the purchase contract is a blueprint for closing on your home. it dictates in black and white how the rest of the transaction will unfold. Never sign a contract without your attorney reviewing it. At the very least, you should write in a contingency clause saying the contract is valid only with my attorney's approval.
Someone may tell you the contract is standard and customary. But since no two homes are alike and no two buyers and sellers are alike, there's really no such thing as -standard and customary.
What You Get and Get To Avoid When Using an Attorney.
Your attorney can also handle numerous services for you in a timely, professional manner:
- Review the contract, and explain to you all the provisions and contingencies.
- In proper legal language, add any contingencies needed to protect your interests
- Inform you of your legal rights and obligations.
- Obtain a title search, evaluate the status of the title, and require appropriate legal remedies to clear any defects.
- Check for unrecorded municipal liens.
- Advise you on what the title policy does not protect against, so you understand any issues with the marketability of the title.
- Prepare or review the closing statement and other closing documents.
- Interpret and counsel you about all legal documents related to the title and transaction, including deeds, mortgages, and closing statements.
- Advise you on how you should take title to the home if you're buying, and how this affects your estate.
- Prepare a bill of sale to cover personal property such as curtains and appliances that you and the other party agree shall remain in the home.
- Inform you about the income, estate, and gift tax consequences to your estate.
- Review the property survey and discuss with you any potential problems.
Without an attorney by your side, you might face issues such as:
- Unnecessary taxes or expenses because purchase contract terms weren't negotiated in your favor.
- A contract that isn't enforceable, complete, or consistent with your original intent.
- Breach of contract caused by a lack of full understanding of the terms and its contingencies.
- Lawsuits that can result from not understanding responsibilities for the seller disclosure.
- Finding out someone else has, or is claiming to have, rights to your property.
- Problems with the title that make it difficult for you to sell the property in the future.
Peace of Mind Comes at No Extra Charge.
You have the choice of hiring either a non-lawyer title agency or real es-tate attorney to handle your title insurance. The cost of closing through a real estate attorney is about the same as the cost of using a title agent. Expect to pay a one-tirne fee ranging from a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, depending on the sale price of the horne. While the fees are comparable, the value is quite different. A real estate attorney is trained in the complexities of real estate law, can examine your title and issue your title insurance policy as well as:
• Negotiate contracts on your behalf
• Give you legal advice
• Explain the meaning of the documents you will be asked to sign at closing
• Resolve title issues
A title agency that isn't affiliated with a real estate attorney cannot do any of these things.
Whether or not separate real estate attorney fees will be charged de-pends on the way the transaction is structured. Typically, if your attorney acts as the closing agent and provides your title insurance, there will be no other fees involved. If you hire an attorney to review the title commit-ment and other documents prepared by someone else, a moderate and reasonable fee will be charged, with the actual cost varying across the state of Florida.
Ask several real estate attorneys for a free estimate of the charges you might incur. Make sure the attorney you choose is one who can clearly and patiently explain the confusing aspects of the real estate buying and selling process.
Given all that's involved during the real estate process-your home, your money, your peace of mind-hiring an attorney is one of the wisest things you can do to protect your investment.
Your entire transaction goes faster and smoother with an attorney to clear the obstacles.