Monday, May 19, 2014

What to know when choosing a real estate lawyer

A few months ago I learned of a woman who is homeless because of a crooked real estate transaction. After years of taking mortgage payments as part of a land contract deal, the property owner took off. He left the house, but the woman later learned that he never made the payments, so she lost it shortly afterward. 

There’s not much that can be done now, but a real estate lawyer may have been able to prevent something like this from happening. Even without having any experience with land contract deals, he or she might have noticed something amok in the paperwork or the answers being given by the property owner.

In any case, be it buying or selling real estate, it is rare to find a deal that is free of any complications, which is why it’s always a good idea to have an attorney available.
But, how do you know you’ve got a good lawyer?

Below are a few tips from a Metro News Services’ report to consider before hiring someone to represent you in any real estate transaction:

  • Check out their experience — The reason you’re hiring a real estate attorney is to make use of their experience. A veteran attorney who has been involved in a number of complicated real estate transactions, be it development deals or buying rental properties, is more likely to see potential red flags. When interviewing someone for the job, ask how long they’ve been practicing law and what kind of experience he or she has in your area. This is important because zoning laws and other real estate restrictions vary from state to state and city to city.
  • Beware of vague answers — When interviewing perspective attorneys, ask for a detailed account of how they plan to represent you, including what must be done to get the transaction off the ground. Also ask what they might do in certain situations involving the transactions. How will they overcome the hurdles or problems? What kind of safeguards can they put into place to protect you? Some attorneys might request time to develop a plan of action and that’s not necessarily a bad thing — especially if they answer your questions in great detail.
  • Watch your money — Attorneys are costly, but not talking about fees will not make them cheaper or go away. Be sure to discuss fees before you hire anyone. Most lawyers charge by the hour, but their rates may be negotiable depending on the case. Those who will be overseeing your real estate transaction are likely to bill by the hour, but if their services are only required to look over a single document they might negotiate a flat fee for the service.
  • Make sure you know what lawyer is representing you — Do not assume the person you interview is going to be on the case full-time. A firm may hire a junior associate or even a paralegal or law school student to handle the day-to-day work. While these people might be perfectly equipped to handle your transaction, when interviewing the attorney ask whether he or she will be handling your case. It’s vital to have a good rapport with the person who will be working your case, whoever he or she will be.
  • Get help and references — Contact the bar association in Michigan and ask for a list of real estate lawyers. Talk to people you know, such as a neighbor or relative who might have had dealings with an attorney they can recommend. Perhaps their lawyer knows of someone else in the firm who handles real estate.
Gina Joseph is a multimedia journalist and columnist for The Macomb Daily. Send comments to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com, follow @ginaljoseph on Twitter and visit her beat blog at macomblife.blogspot.com.


  1. Good point you made about knowing who will be representing you. I didn't consider the possibility of my lawyer being different than the one I would have an initial consultation with. Another tip that I think would be important would be to see multiple real estate lawyers. It is sometimes easier to get a better deal when you talk to multiple ones.

  2. Thanks for the great advice. I've been trying to find a good lawyer that will be there for me in times of need. I just feel like it's really important to make sure that you've got a really good lawyer on your back. You just never know when you're going to need your lawyer.

  3. What a good idea to ask an attorney for specifics about what they plan on doing to help you! When my brother and sister-in-law were looking for a real estate attorney a few months ago, they were very impressed with the ones they interviewed who were able to precisely answer their questions and even provide insight for problems they hadn't considered. It's so good to be know that your attorney has a solid plan before hiring them. http://www.levinandlevin.com/Practice-Areas/Real-Estate-Closings.shtml

  4. I like your tip to contact the bar association. That way you can find out about local lawyers. Asking friends and family for recommendations can help you consider layers, too. http://lawyerpottstown.com/real-estate-law.html