What Does a Real Estate Attorney Do?

These lawyers can fill many roles in the course of a real estate transaction

By Tim Kelly, J.D. | Last updated on May 12, 2022

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If you’ve dabbled in residential or commercial property transactions, you’re likely familiar with a real estate agent’s role. These professionals act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers, ensuring the transaction runs smoothly.

Alternatively, the role of a real estate lawyer is much more intensive. Real estate attorneys are professionals that handle whatever legal formalities arise during a real estate transaction. Additionally, they will protect their client’s interests and provide legal advice. A real estate attorney can help their client avoid bad deals and unnecessary property disputes.

What Is Real Estate Law?

Put simply, real estate law is the rules and regulations that govern the buying and selling of “real property.” Real property means anything tangible affixed to the earth, such as land or permanent structures, including residential homes and commercial buildings.

The regulation of the real estate business is conducted primarily at the state level. There are a few federal regulations in the space, such as the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act (ILSFDA), which facilitates transactions of land deals across state borders and works to protect consumers from dirty dealers. However, professionals operating in this industry and (to a lesser extent) buyers should be aware that their dealings are regulated by state regulation and common law.  

This, in part, is why it can be so beneficial to have an attorney at your side in real estate transactions. The best, most experienced attorneys will have substantial knowledge of the regulation and governance around real estate in your area. Consider how a real estate attorney can assist you in the next section.

How a Real Estate Attorney Can Help

While some litigation experience is always a plus, most real estate attorneys act in a more transactional role. Real estate attorneys can perform many different functions throughout a property sale. Which functions they perform primarily depend on the client’s needs and the circumstances of the sale. Here are just a few ways a real estate attorney can assist you:

  • Draft all legal documents. There is a vast amount of paperwork involved in a property sale. Your attorney will be able to draft legally operative documents throughout the sale. These include the land contract purchase agreement, any special agreements between the transacting parties, mortgage lender agreements, titles, and transfer documents.
  • Perform a thorough title search. First-time home buyers are often novices when it comes to conducting a title search. Title searches are the best way to determine whether someone other than the seller has a lien or claim of ownership on the property. Whether you use a title search company or an attorney, you should always perform one before completing a home purchase.
  • File documents and handle record-keeping. Your real estate attorney will keep copies of any documentation associated with the work they do for you, including receipts for the transfer of funds. This record-keeping can be invaluable later if you lose track of your own copies.
  • Work with mortgage lenders. Your attorney can work with your mortgage lender to help secure the purchase. This is especially useful as lenders are sometimes represented by attorneys throughout a closing.
  • Facilitate the purchase and advise as needed. An attorney is skilled in this entire process. Whether you’re the property buyer or seller, your attorney will work with you through every step, facilitating communication, drafting documents, and providing legal advice as necessary. Fostering a solid attorney-client relationship built on trust and communication can be an asset throughout the sale.

Note that real estate law in some states actually requires you to use an attorney. Those states are:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • West Virginia

Additionally, some states require you to enlist an attorney for a title search. In these states, the attorney will provide their opinion on whether or not there is a good title for purchase:

  • Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota

Questions for a Real Estate Attorney

Many real estate attorneys provide initial free consultations to prospective clients. These meetings are a great resource for both attorney and client because they allow the attorney to hear the facts of the case while the client can determine if the attorney meets their needs.

The best way to decide whether an attorney is the right fit is by asking informed questions. Here are some good questions to ask during your initial conversations:

  • Do you have experience working in real estate transactions?
  • Have you ever drafted a real estate contract?
  • Do I need title insurance?
  • Do you charge a flat fee or retainer pay structure?
  • Can I sell my home if I am facing foreclosure?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. 

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices real estate law.

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