Thinking of hiring a real estate attorney (read this first)

Let’s assume you are doing a residential purchase or sale and need a Manhattan real estate attorney to represent you. How do you find one and what should your criteria be? Let’s take a simplified look at what they do first to assist the process.

On a purchase, your attorney will review the proposed contract and examine the financial information of the co-op or condo building which might entail going to the building to read the minutes of the Board meetings. If there is some project coming up or a noisy neighbor that is wrecking havoc,  it might show up in these minutes.  Your attorney will meet you to sign the contract and fedex/messenger the contract and deposit check to the seller side. After that, assuming it’s not a complicated transaction that will be about it until you go to closing and then he will reconcile the numbers at the closing table and provide you with a closing statement.

On a sale of a Manhattan co-op/condo, the attorney or assistant will prepare the NYS contracts, then will negotiate any changes proposed by the buyer side. You will meet your attorney once the buyer signs and counter sign the contract. If there are issues with the mortgage or closing, the attorney will intercede and if not your attorney will attend the closing and reconcile the numbers with the other side.

Attorneys charge generally as low as $1700 for this transaction and generally an average fee is closer to $2500-$3000.

The easiest way to find a good real estate attorney is to ask a friend, family member or your real estate broker for the name of someone that they have used and had a good experience.

You want to make sure that any attorney you use specializes in real estate so that you have a true expert on your side. Sometimes your family attorney also “does” real estate transactions but if there is an issue along the way, experience in doing many transactions may be an asset that you are happy that they have or may hurt you if they do not. So choose someone with experience.

Find out if there is an assistant or someone that you can speak to in case you need a quick question answered. If your attorney spends all day in court and is unreachable by phone/email, it may add stress unnecessarily to the process. Most attorneys will have staff and in some cases they will be able to answer your questions.

Lastly, while you might be recommended to a big name law firm, ask who will be the one handling your transaction. A big name firm that delegates you to a junior attorney or paralegal may not be the wisest choice. Much in the same way, a big name real estate brokerage that passes you off to the 3rd assistant may also leave you feeling that you are not receiving the service you expect.

So while the description I have given of what an attorney is very simple, it is not easy and you never what bumps you will hit on the way so it’s always best to have an expert on your side. To find the right person may take a little bit of research.

10 thoughts on “Thinking of hiring a real estate attorney (read this first)”

  1. The thought of getting caught in a real estate contract makes me really nervous. I like how having a real estate attorney means you will have an expert by your side to review the proposed contract and examine the financial information. There is lots of real estate acronyms and lingo I don’t understand that I bet lawyers who specialize in real estate know by heart and can explain to you.

  2. I like what you said about checking with your attorney if they have an assistant that can be reached, just in case they are constantly busy in court. This is such a small thing, but it can make a huge difference! You never know at what times you will need to speak with your lawyer, so it’s important that you have some way to communicate at all times. I’ll have to tell my sister that — she is currently searching for a real estate attorney.

  3. This is some great information, and I appreciate your suggestion to ask a friend or family member for a real estate lawyer recommendation. My husband and I are going to be buying our first house, so we want to make sure we have good lawyer to guide us through this. We’ll definitely ask around to see if any of our friends have good recommendations for us to start our search. Thanks for the great post!

  4. I agree that when dealing with a real estate dispute you would want a lawyer that specializes in real estate law. I would imagine that finding someone’s specialization would tell you how qualified they are to represent you. I’m dealing with a lease dispute right now so I’ll have to look for a lawyer specialized in this type of law to help me out.

  5. I agree that it is a good idea to find a real estate attorney that has time to answer small questions. It makes sense that understanding this can help you know more about the process and have someone you can trust. I would want to find someone that cares about me and is not afraid to educate me on the process.

  6. Thanks for the article. In it you mentioned that a real estate attorney will go through the contract, examine all the details, financial and otherwise, and ensure that everything is a it should be. My younger brother is looking to buy a house soon, and has no real experience doing this. Having someone to look over the contract and give an expert opinion would be really help, and help comfort me a lot.

  7. My wife and I have been considering hiring a real estate attorney to help us with an upcoming home transaction, and I think that your tip about asking friends and family first would be smart. I’m going to be looking to buy a new home, and I think that being able to have the experience on our side that a real estate attorney brings to the table would be really helpful. I’ll have to ask around to a few people we know and see if we can get a recommendation for a good real estate attorney!

  8. This is a great article! I am looking to buy a property that I plan to convert into a small rustic restaurant. It is my first time buying and would like to make sure that the property is suitable for my intended purpose. When you mentioned that an attorney is willing to look into those details on my behalf, it gave me the peace of mind I desperately need.

  9. It was really nice how you suggested making sure that the attorney that I’m considering can be reached quite easily, or at least, have a staff to answer my calls or concerns should I ever have any. That’s actually a pretty nice thing to consider especially since I need the attorney for a large investment– a house. I’m planning to hire a real estate attorney because the house that I am interested in buying has an issue regarding who really owns it. I don’t want any problems later on. Thanks for sharing.

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