Not all real estate attorneys are competent, let alone good. And it’s important to find one who will help, rather than hinder, the deal. Finding a good real estate attorney is like finding a good broker. First, you should ask your broker and friends for recommendations. You want someone experienced, someone who has handled a minimum of 50 closings within the past three years. After you get several names, call them up and ask them how much they charge and what they will do for that fee. Don’t be embarrassed to ask about fees. It’s crucial that you know how much you’re getting for your money.
Some attorneys (especially those in medium or large law firms) charge by the hour. Others (especially solo practitioners) charge a flat fee. Try to find someone who will charge you a flat fee for his or her time. That way if there is a problem with the closing, you won’t be charged for all those extra hours.
Looking solely at how much attorneys charge for their services is not necessarily the best way to choose your attorney. For this, the biggest investment of your life, ask yourself if you feel comfortable telling this person all the intimate details of your financial life. It’s vital that you feel comfortable with, and perhaps even a bit close to, your attorney.
If a deal is really complicated, you will almost certainly need an attorney. “Sam” once worked on a house closing that seemed pretty ordinary until he found out there were 10 lenders. He had to negotiate a separate deal with each lender until they were all satisfied. The extremely complicated closing took 10 hours. Some at the closing called it the “hour per lender” deal.
Once you hire the attorney, the general idea is to let him or her do the job. If the attorney advises you on certain points, believe him or her. If he or she tells you to do something, do it. The attorney knows the ins and outs of real estate law much better than you do.
Note: Hiring a real estate lawyer is not the same thing as having your Uncle Harry, the tax attorney, do your real estate closing. Real estate law is specialized and while Uncle Harry may be a whiz at writing wills, or leasing airplanes, or finding creative places to put your money, he may help you get nailed to the wall in two minutes if he doesn’t truly understand the finer points of real estate law.
This Homebuyers Tip was excerpted from:
100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, by Ilyce R. Glink, Random House, 1994.