When you are buying your first home (and any home after that), you need a few good people in your corner. The first is finding a good realtor (real estate agent), the next is finding a lawyer specializing in real estate. This article will help you find a real estate lawyer for buying your first home, and onwards!
Do I need a lawyer to buy a house?
Short answer: Yes. This is the biggest transaction of your life (geez… no pressure), and you want to have someone in your corner who knows all the ins and outs of purchasing a property in your city. Buying a property requires a certain knowledge of property law, and while it’s usually pretty straightforward, things can come up where you want to defer to a professional.
I think this was the first question I asked my parents when I started looking for a home. Something about lawyers can be really intimidating, but the truth is that they put on their pants one leg at a time (to be fair, I’ve never seen my lawyer get dressed, that would be weird). Plus, they have a special skill set that you need when making the biggest purchase of your life.
BOTTOM LINE: Unless you want to go to school for years so you can read and understand everything about property law, it’s best to hire a lawyer.
MHO Quick Story: “Our lawyer, found several issues with some of the out buildings on our property, which turned out could have been a big deal, had we not hired him.”
Does it have to be specifically a real estate lawyer?
Many law firms will have someone specifically in the office that handles this type of law. Typically these contracts are pretty standard stuff, but you will want them to have experience in property law to have all your bases covered. We will get to what to ask a little later.
What are the legal fees when buying a house?
The legal fees will vary from location to location. In general terms, you will want to bookmark 1.5 % in legal fees (so $3000 on a $200,000 home) for legal fees when you start looking for your home. The best thing to do is to ask your lawyer as part of your process in finding a lawyer when buying your first home. Some may have a fixed cost schedule, but they will easily break down their fees.
It’s typical for the following expenses to be included. They are all part of the closing costs of your new home.
- Title search
- Mortgage registration
- Legal fees
- Office expenses
- Land transfer tax
- Registration of deed
- Certificate of execution
- Courier charges
- Printing and faxes (yes, they still use faxes)
What does a lawyer do when you buy a house?
The lawyer will get all the paperwork ready and make the transfer of the home from the buyer (that’s you!) to the seller a lot easier. They get everything ready for you and do any background checks and other things related to the transfer of property.
Typically you will go to the lawyers’ office (make sure you don’t do a weekend possession date), sign all the documents, and get the keys. For you, it’s pretty straightforward, show up with what you need and sign papers, then you get your keys.
How to Find a Lawyer in 3 Easy Steps
For most first-time homebuyers, this might also be one of your first dealings with a lawyer. Given that this is likely one of the largest purchases you will make, you want to make sure you’re represented properly. We’ve outlined a few helpful suggestions below that we hope will help guide you through the process.
Step 1: Generate your shortlist
Yup, good ol’ Google, another quick and easy way to find a lawyer.
While we are on the topic of Google…
We suggest always doing some research on the lawyer you plan to use. Search for things like Lawyer’s name + complaints or lawyer’s name + issues.
Never accept someone onto your team without doing some background research to ensure it’s a good fit, and you’re comfortable with your decision.
Ask family, friends, co-workers, and others in your network:
This is probably the best way to find a lawyer. Chances are you know someone who recently bought a house and used a lawyer. If your place of employment has a legal department, it might be a good idea to ask if they can recommend someone. Maybe they even know someone from their graduating class who went into legal real estate.
Reaching out to your network is often one of the best (and easiest!) ways to find a lawyer, especially one that comes recommended.
Ask your real estate agent:
Chances are your real estate agent knows a few lawyers they can recommend. Working with a lawyer that is part of your real estate agent’s team can speed up the process. Even if your realtor makes a suggestion, always make sure to do a bit of your own research, rather than going into it blindly and simply accepting their suggestion.
Step 2: Send this email to your potential lawyer:
Next, you will email your shortlist of lawyers and send them this email (you can get all of these templates in our guide here)
My name is _________, and I’m looking for a lawyer that specializes in home purchases, specifically residential real estate. I am currently looking to purchase my first home and am seeking a lawyer to represent me.
While I plan on purchasing a home in the near future, I do not yet have one selected.
If you have expertise in this area and are looking to take on new clients, please let me know, as it would be great to speak further.
INSERT YOUR NAME
Step 3: Interview prospective lawyers
Once you have a shortlist of lawyers you’re considering working with, send the potential lawyers an email and ask them the following questions.
6 Questions to Ask a Lawyer Before Hiring Them
Is real estate one of your areas of practice?
You don’t want to hire a lawyer that doesn’t have any experience in real estate. This is a qualifying question. If they don’t answer “yes,” it’s time to move on to the next lawyer on your list.
Do you have a set fee schedule for home purchases?
Any lawyer should be able to give you a detailed, or at the very least, a ballpark figure of what it will cost to work with them.
Can you give me the complete list of costs involved in the closing of this sale? Can you email me a list of the costs involved for my budget?
This question focuses on moving yourself down the line of knowing what costs to expect and what you will need to plan for as you get closer to the final purchase.
For example, a lawyer can list their fee as $1,000 for all things related to buying a home. Still, you may get there and realize they forgot to include their other fees like photocopying, delivery, taxes, and other day-to-day business costs.
For this reason, you want to ask for a breakdown of the costs. If you don’t understand one of the costs, ask for an explanation. You’re paying for the service, and you have the right to know what you’re paying for in full.
Tip: Many lawyers have a bunch of extra fees tacked onto their bill. If you are up for it, ask if it’s possible for them to waive any of the fees to save you some money.
Do you have any paperwork that outlines my responsibilities in this transaction?
The process of buying a home is pretty straightforward, but it’s a good idea to ask what your responsibilities are (if any) when you’re about to enter into one of the biggest purchases of your life.
What other costs might come up in this transaction that aren’t included in the above price? If there are additional costs, will someone notify me beforehand to seek my approval before moving forward?
We want to make sure you’ve covered all the bases here. Most importantly, you don’t want to show up at your closing appointment to find “surprise” amounts on your bill.
Ask upfront; it will show that you’re on top of your finances, you have some familiarity with the process, and you will demonstrate that you’re paying attention.
What amount will I need to bring when we have our in-person meeting? How can I pay that amount?
This may be their bill, but if you need a larger down payment (find out with this down payment calculator) extra funds for variances or other unforeseen items, it’s a good question to ask.
Don’t leave these amounts to chance – you should know how much money you need to have with you when you see your lawyer.
You may be able to pay your lawyer’s fees with debit, cash, or credit, but your down payment and other amounts may need to be certified.