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What Is A Real Estate Attorney And When Do You Need One?

April 18, 2024 6-minute read

Author: Hanna Kielar


Whether you’re a buyer or seller, transferring property ownership can include many legal complexities. Enlisting the services of a real estate attorney can often help you navigate the process. Real estate attorneys are trained on the laws and protocols pertaining to real estate transactions and can help you avoid the financial ramifications of errors in contracts, titles and documents.

If you’re in the market to buy or sell property, you might consider hiring a real estate attorney to help guide you through the process.

What Is A Real Estate Attorney?

A real estate attorney, also known as a real estate lawyer, is someone who is licensed to practice real estate law. They have the training and knowledge to offer professional guidance during a real estate transaction.

A real estate attorney can work for a seller, buyer or lender. Your real estate attorney is paid by you, and their exact duties will be determined by the demands of your transaction and by the laws of your state.

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What Does A Real Estate Attorney Do?

Real estate attorneys are legally authorized to oversee documents and contracts related to the sale and purchase of property. In some cases, a real estate attorney is also the person who’ll oversee your closing.

In a home purchase transaction, both the buyer and seller can hire an attorney to represent their interests during the process. Or, in the case where an attorney is overseeing a closing where the home is being purchased with a mortgage loan, the attorney may actually represent the mortgage lender or title company.

Understanding all the services a real estate lawyer can perform can make it easier to ask for the specific assistance you might need. Some of the tasks a real estate attorney may be responsible for include:

  • Negotiating sale terms between buyer and seller
  • Preparing and reviewing all contracts
  • Conducting the title search and verifying that there are no liens or other issues
  • Ensuring the transaction meets all state and federal laws
  • Checking for any zoning or land use irregularities
  • Resolving any disputes or discrepancies
  • Finalizing all closing documents

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When Do I Need An Attorney For Real Estate?

The home buying process involves many instances where a real estate attorney could be a necessary addition. Home buyers and sellers may utilize a real estate attorney in their transactions from the negotiating stage to the transfer of property ownership.

However, there are also several conditions and circumstances in which legal representation may be needed beyond the services and responsibilities previously mentioned.

Here are a few reasons you might need or want an attorney to be part of your home buying or selling team.

State Or Lender Requirement

Every state has slightly different laws and regulations regarding real estate transactions. These requirements are often meant to prevent real estate agents from acting in a legal capacity in which they aren’t trained or properly licensed.

For example, in many areas only a licensed attorney can put together legal documents related to the sale of a home, because that’s considered to be within the realm of the practice of law. However, in some localities, real estate agents now use standardized form contracts for home purchases that non-lawyers can legally fill out on their own.

Certain states may also consider performing a home closing to be a practice of law, and as such, an attorney may be required to be present during closing. If you’re getting a mortgage with Rocket Mortgage®, a real estate attorney is required to conduct your closing if the subject property is located in any of the following states:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • West Virginia

Contractual Issues With The Transaction

If your real estate agreement brings about any out-of-the-ordinary legal issues that could complicate the home sale, a real estate attorney can ensure that all your contracts are clean and error-free. By taking into account the complexity of your situation, any issues that arise during the process can be resolved before they become too serious.

Short Sale Or Foreclosure

A real estate endeavor involving a short sale or foreclosure might entail different legal necessities or lender requirements. An underwater mortgage is another instance that might benefit from the expertise of a real estate lawyer. When considering a transaction that involves conditions that are relatively less common, the time could be right for a real estate attorney.

How Much Does A Real Estate Attorney Cost?

How much you’ll spend paying your real estate attorney (or attorneys) will depend on the services they’ve provided for you and who is responsible for that particular closing cost. If your mortgage lender requires an attorney to be present at closing, the cost of the closing attorney will depend on how your real estate contract has been negotiated.

If you want your own attorney in addition to the one required by your lender, you’ll also pay for any services they provide. Real estate attorney charges can vary, but there are some basic ranges that suggest what to expect.

  • Fixed hourly rate: Hourly rates can range from $150 – $350 per hour, and this range can be based on an attorney’s experience and your geographic location.
  • Fixed rates for specific services: Attorneys might also charge a flat fee for certain services they provide. For example, a real estate attorney might charge $500 – $1,500 to conduct a home closing. These fees may also depend on the sale price of the property in question.

How Can I Find A Real Estate Attorney Near Me?

If you don’t know where to look to find a reputable real estate attorney, there are many solutions available.

  • Get recommendations from friends and family. If someone in your social circle recently purchased or sold a home and had an attorney, you might consider asking them who they used and what their experience was like.

  • Consult the state’s bar association directory. Your state bar association’s website can help you locate lawyers in your area who practice real estate law. Use the American Bar Association’s directory to help you find your state’s website.

  • Visit an online legal review site. There are many online review websites that will give you information on attorneys in your area, including their specialties, fee structures and any reviews left by former clients.

Real Estate Attorney FAQs

Still not sure what hiring an attorney for real estate can do for you? While there are many questions to consider, the answers are fortunately within reach.

Who does a real estate attorney represent?

When a person is ready to buy or sell real property, a real estate attorney can represent the buyer or the seller, but not both. Representing both parties is not allowed because it could lead to a conflict of interest. In instances where the law requires it, a real estate attorney may also represent the lender and/or title company as a closing agent.

A real estate attorney should advocate for their client, but it’s impossible to give them the best deal if they represent both because their interests are different. However, the buyer and seller are allowed to hire separate attorneys from the same law firm.

What does a real estate attorney do for the buyer and seller?

For the buyer, a real estate attorney will ensure that any offer made is valid, while a real estate attorney for a seller will help negotiate the terms of the sale. They protect the rights of the buyer or the seller by examining and evaluating the closing documents, explaining the terms of the mortgage, and providing legal advice as necessary.

What qualifications should I look for in my real estate attorney?

Your attorney should be properly licensed by your state’s bar association. You should also ask if your attorney specializes in real estate, and how many years of real estate experience they have.

What is an attorney-of-fact?

In real estate, an attorney-of-fact functions as a power of attorney. This allows you to designate another person to represent you (or your business) on your behalf.

Do I need a real estate lawyer if I’m buying or selling to a family member?

An attorney is generally needed in terms of handling the house title. While hiring an attorney can be a personal decision, having legal representation to handle the many aspects involved with real estate can be a good option for you.

The Bottom Line: Real Estate Attorneys Offer Legal Guidance

If you’re not sure about the legal implications of your real estate transaction, having a real estate lawyer in your corner can help.

Employing the proper assistance with a mortgage can also make the buying or selling process easier. Connect with Rocket Mortgage for all of your real estate or property needs.

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Hanna Kielar Headshot

Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto, RocketHQ, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.