Should You Hire a Lawyer?

Hiring a lawyer is not required by law in order to buy a house. But hiring a lawyer can help.

Think of a lawyer as insurance. A good real estate attorney is a watchdog who can lead a client through the thicket of details and paperwork required for any house sale.

Most charge a flat fee between $300 and $1,000.

Here’s what one should expect a lawyer to do:

  • Review the sales contract – Unless the condition and properties of the house are specified in the contract, the buyer may be stuck with a furnace on the verge of collapse or exposed wires dangling from the ceiling. A lawyer makes sure buyers know exactly what they’re getting, and not getting, for their money, and typically asks for modifications in the contract to protect the buyer’s interests.
  • Serve as a liaison between lender and buyer – To avoid last-minute surprises or delays, a diligent real estate lawyer will require a commitment letter from the lender, which sets exactly what conditions, if any, need to be met before the loan is approved.
  • Advise on the closing – The lawyer summarizes the documents that the client must sign, including mortgage contracts, title reports, waivers, bills of payment and any other paperwork relevant to the transaction. A lawyer will look over all of the closing material to make sure there are no problems.
  • Help settle disputes – Even after the sales contract is signed and the mortgage approved, problems may arise that require the contract to be amended. For example, the inspection report may turn up undetected problems with the house, or arguments may erupt about exactly what is included in the sale. A lawyer can help mediate these disputes.

Ask friends and relatives for recommendations when seeking a real estate lawyer. Also, you can get referrals from lawyers not specializing in real estate, bankers, agents or the local Bar association.