The buying or selling of a home is for many individuals the single most expensive purchase or sale of an individual’s life. Individuals routinely fork over six (6) or seven (7) percent of the sale price to real estate agents – but then fail to spend a few hundred dollars on the services of a lawyer. While one is not legally required to have a lawyer during the process of buying and selling a home, it should be remembered that it is not legally required to have a real estate agent either – and, often, a lawyer is a much better bargain than an agent.
Lawyers can be helpful from the very start of a residential real estate transaction. Whether one is buying or selling a house, an investment property where the owner will be landlord and rent out the premises to a tenant, a condominium, or even applying to a Homeowners’ Association, a lawyer may be able to prevent some easy and expensive mistakes.
Real estate transactions are different under the law in most states than other purchases. First, real estate contracts typically must be in writing. While oral contracts suffice for a number of other transactions – the statute of frauds typically prevents not only oral contracts for residential real estate, but even prevents oral modification of written real estate contracts. Further, sellers have some mandatory disclosure provisions in residential real estate that do not exist elsewhere. Navigating the sometimes dizzying array of contingencies, deadlines, fees, liens, foreclosures, titles, property taxes, zoning, and mortgage restrictions and options can also be challenging without the services of a lawyer. Similarly, in the area of landlord and tenant law, issues surrounding what words in an advertisement can give rise to a cause of action under the Fair Housing Act, what terms must be included in a lease, how a landlord should handle a security deposit – including what can and can’t be deducted and the timing of when it must be returned to the tenant, and how the process of eviction works, can be made clearer by a lawyer who specializes in real estate issues.