The purchase or sale of land or a home is a significant event in a person's life. The process of buying or selling real estate can be overwhelming for those who are not familiar with it. With any sizable financial transaction, it’s important to make sure that you aren’t being taken advantage of. If you are a buyer, you’ll want to be able to rest easy, knowing that you aren’t throwing your money away on a bad real estate investment. If you are a seller, you’ll want to be sure you are receiving fair compensation for selling your home or land. It’s common to work with experts, such as a real estate agent, a property inspector, or an appraiser, when buying and selling real estate. Another expert that may provide valuable advice and peace of mind at such a time is a real estate attorney.
Do I Need a Real Estate Attorney?
One might assume that every real estate transaction is straightforward and can be easily handled without the added cost of hiring a real estate attorney. In many cases, this is true. A home or piece of land can be bought and sold with the guidance of a real estate agent alone. Sometimes, however, legal concerns arise, and getting a licensed legal expert is necessary. Questions about short sale agreements, disputes over zoning and building regulations, misrepresentation of some aspect or feature of a property or home, and undisclosed information about hazardous building materials or structural damage are a few examples of legal issues that could lead a buyer or seller to hire a real estate attorney.
Even without the presence of concerning legal issues, a real estate lawyer can provide invaluable expertise and peace of mind when it comes to contracts and negotiations. State laws can also come into play when it comes to whether or not you need to hire a lawyer. If you live in an attorney state, you will be required to have a real estate lawyer present at the closing of your real estate transaction. Some mortgage lenders may also require the presence of an attorney throughout the home selling/buying process.
Real Estate Lawyer Costs: What to Expect
So how much does it cost to hire a good real estate lawyer? This will depend on multiple factors. Here are some questions to consider that may play into the cost of your real estate attorney:
What is their billing structure? (Do they charge an hourly rate or a flat rate?)
How much experience do they have?
Are they representing you as a buyer or a seller? Or are they representing the mortgage lenders?
What is the value of the home or piece of land being sold?
Is yours a straightforward sale or a complicated and potentially contentious case?
Charging by the hour
If your real estate attorney charges by the hour, you will be billed for whatever amount of time they spend working on your case. There are pros and cons to this payment structure. The main pro is that you only pay for the exact amount of time spent on the case. The main con is that you won’t know ahead of time how much time will be spent working on things, so you could end up paying more than anticipated. Hourly rate attorneys are also likely to charge a retainer fee.
Charging a flat rate
A flat rate, or fixed fee billing structure, is when a lawyer charges one overall sum for their services, regardless of how much time they spend on your case. As with the other payment structures, this one has pros and cons. The main pro with a flat rate payment structure is that you will know exactly how much you will be spending upfront. The main con is that you could pay more than the actual amount of time spent on your case merits if it ends up being a straightforward and simple matter.
How much experience do they have?
Regardless of whether you are paying by the hour or paying a single, fixed rate, how much experience your attorney has will play in how much you spend. Depending on where they are located, real estate lawyers who charge by the hour may ask for anything between $150 and $400 an hour. Fixed fee attorneys might charge anywhere between $500 and $2000, depending on a number of contributing factors. Whether or not their fees fall along the higher or lower end of these scales is likely to be dependent on how much experience they have.
Are you the buyer or seller?
Whether you are the buyer or seller will affect how your attorney approaches your case and how much time they spend on it. This, in turn, will impact the overall amount you pay if you are paying by the hour. If the attorney is there as a requirement of the mortgage lender or title company, how the real estate contract is negotiated will determine whether or not it is the buyer or seller who will pay the attorney fees. A buyer or seller may also elect to hire their own attorney in addition to the attorney provided by the mortgage lender.
What is the property value?
Some attorneys may base their fees on the amount brought in by the property being sold. For example, they may set a fixed rate that is a percentage of the overall sale.
What services are required?
Whether you are paying hourly rates or a fixed fee, your payment will cover things like:
Preparing and reviewing legal documents and contracts
Negotiating terms of a sale or short sale
Helping with complicated foreclosure issues
Addressing inheritance laws (if applicable)
Facilitating mediation over legal disputes
Communicating with the mortgage company
Overseeing a closing
If your sale is uncomplicated and easy to understand, the attorney fees you incur should be relatively low. The more complicated and contentious the circumstances around your sale, the more money you will likely have to pay.
If you are in need of a qualified real estate attorney, you can find one here.
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