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The Role of a Real Estate Attorney Explained

A real estate attorney’s main responsibility is to offer legal advice and assistance to clients engaged in various real estate transactions, including property purchases, sales, and leases. Real estate attorneys fall into two main categories: residential and commercial. Specific responsibilities can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the transaction or case.

Contracts and Documents

Most real estate transactions are document-based and require legal knowledge and skills to correctly complete paperwork while securing your rights, concerns, and profitability. A real estate agent can help you fill out documents. However, only a real estate attorney can draft or revise them. Typical documents a real estate attorney prepares include:

  • Title documents
  • Mortgage contracts
  • Purchase agreements
  • Lease contracts
  • Rental agreements
  • Eviction notices
  • Transfer of title documents
  • Other notarized documents or affidavits

Real Estate Attorney Responsibilities

Real estate lawyers’ responsibilities vary depending on whether the transaction is commercial, such as an office space, or the focus is on land development, or the sale or purchase of residential housing. Some real estate attorneys have general expertise that involves all property types.

Buying or Selling Residential or Land Properties

When purchasing or selling real estate of significant value, a real estate attorney’s responsibilities include:

  • Reviewing the purchase agreement
  • Negotiating terms
  • Ensuring proper documentation
  • Conducting due diligence
  • Handling closing process

These actions will protect your legal interests and help avoid potential disagreements or future litigation.

Commercial Real Estate

Commercial real estate transactions are more complex than residential. Whether buying, selling, or leasing commercial property, a real estate lawyer with commercial property expertise can navigate intricate contracts, zoning regulations, environmental issues, and more.

Contract Review and Preparation

Real estate contracts are lengthy and contain complicated legal language. A real estate lawyer will review your agreement before signing and help you understand the terms and conditions to identify potential risks, negotiate favorable terms, and protect your rights according to your state’s real estate laws.

Title and Property Disputes

If a potential property purchase encounters title issues, boundary disputes, or other conflicts related to real estate law, an attorney can provide guidance and legal representation. They can help resolve disputes first through negotiation, secondarily through mediation, or represent you in court.

Foreclosure or Short Sale

If you’re facing a foreclosure or considering a short sale (selling your home for less than you owe on the mortgage), a real estate attorney can help navigate the legal process, protect your rights, and explore options for negotiating with lenders or avoiding foreclosure altogether.

Land Use and Zoning Matters

When planning to develop or make changes to a property, the land use and all zoning regulations come into play. Real estate attorneys can help navigate local zoning laws, obtain permits and approvals, and represent you before planning and zoning boards and homeowners associations.

Real Estate Investment

More than ever, people are developing income streams through real estate investments. A real estate lawyer can provide guidance on legal business structures, due diligence, risk assessment, contracts, and other aspects specific to real estate law and investments.

Additionally, a real estate attorney may file quiet title actions, draft and review subleases, draft construction loans and contracts, handle a sale as part of a divorce settlement, or sell a property to pay off debts.

When is a Real Estate Attorney a Requirement

Although it may be in your best interest to retain the services of a real estate attorney, it’s not always a requirement. Two situations legally require a real estate attorney to be involved in your transaction.

  1. Transaction Closing – Nearly half of US states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring the involvement of a licensed real estate attorney in transactions, particularly at closing. The exact requirements vary by state.
  2. Lender Requirement – There are circumstances when lenders require a real estate lawyer to be present at closing. Depending on the property’s location, lender requirements may affect deals in several states.

When Do You Need a Real Estate Attorney?

Depending on the situation, you may require a real estate attorney during transactions or when encountering legal issues regarding a real estate deal. Some common scenarios include:

  • Buying or Selling Property – Whether residential or commercial, if your purchase represents a significant amount of your wealth, an attorney can protect your interests and overall estate value, keeping you from making costly mistakes. They also ensure compliance with laws and regulations.
  • Independent Third Party Review – Lengthy and legally complex language are hallmarks of real estate documents and contracts. Without the oversight of a real estate attorney, your deal may be subject to mistakes or intentional exploitation.
  • Title and Property Disputes – Title issues, boundary disputes, and other conflicts related to real estate are common and best resolved through negotiations or mediation rather than expensive litigation.
  • Foreclosure or Short Sale – If your financial situation is dire, have a real estate attorney handle the legal process, protect your rights, and explore options for possibly avoiding foreclosure by negotiating with lenders.
  • Property Development – Buying a piece of land for development or changing an existing property may trigger land use and zoning regulation issues. A real estate lawyer understands local zoning laws, permitting, and approvals preventing costly errors.
  • Protection from Legal Exposure and Liabilities – A real estate attorney ensures you are not subject to expensive legal liabilities.

The real estate attorney you hire will represent your interests, advocating for your rights and a profitable deal. Other real estate lawyers may be present during negotiations on behalf of someone else or another entity.

The cost of retaining a real estate attorney depends on the services you require and the size of the transaction. Some real estate lawyers charge a flat fee for a set of services, while others may charge hourly.

Our real estate attorneys use their legal expertise and negotiating skills to protect your rights, defend your needs, and provide desired outcomes.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please contact our Albany office today at (518) 452-6979 and schedule a consultation.

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