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Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Real Estate Attorney

In the same way a wedding planner reduces the stress of planning a major life event, choosing an experienced real estate attorney who is committed to providing top-tier service can provide peace of mind during the process of buying or selling your home. It is no small thing to buy or sell property, and it’s important to have a confident attorney who not only knows what they’re doing but is also dedicated to making the transaction process as stress-free as possible.

As a buyer or seller, it is imperative that you vet any real estate attorney before hiring them. A good place to start is by asking them questions that help you gauge how they do their work, and how they’ll contribute to a seamless transaction. Here are the top five questions we think you should ask a real estate attorney:

1. Is real estate law the focus of your practice or do you practice in other areas as well?

Buying a home, especially if you are a first-time buyer, is one of the largest purchases most people will make in their lifetime, so you don’t want an attorney who dabbles in real estate law. You want an attorney whose practice is exclusively, or almost exclusively, real estate. Real estate transactions are a highly complex and unique area of law, so having someone well-versed in the law and process will make all the difference in your experience.

Ideally, for home-buying, you will also want to find an attorney who specializes in residential real estate. This lawyer will be accustomed to guiding clients through every step of the real estate transaction. Similarly, if the real estate involves commercial property, it is best to work with a real estate attorney who is well-versed in that subspecialty.

2. What is your experience with transactions similar to mine? What is your reputation within real estate law?

While having an attorney who specializes in real estate is vital, you should also be confident that they’ve handled multiple matters and transactions similar to yours. Ask about and research the attorney’s depth of experience and ask for references and matter examples. At a minimum, you should read the attorney’s bio and search the web to gain a sense of their experience level and reputation. You may also want to look at client testimonials and Google reviews. To take this a step further, if you know that your purchase may have certain complexities with title examinations, zoning, or timing, it is wise to find out if your attorney handles the specific matters that may arise throughout the course of your transaction.

3. Do you work with a team/firm or are you a sole practitioner?

Knowing if your attorney is a solo practitioner or part of a team will help you understand the level of service and bench strength you are hiring. A sole practitioner may be able to offer you a single point of contact, but it’s possible their resources and expertise will be limited. It’s important to note that if you choose to work with a solo practitioner you will need to discuss what you can do to keep the process moving if they are sick or on vacation. While there are many great solo practitioners, their timeliness and level of service may not be up to par with what a boutique or larger firm can accommodate.

For example, at Ligris, we prioritize top-tier client service and communication, while utilizing the strengths of our firm’s structure to optimize the process throughout. This structure allows attorneys to focus on their client relationships, and not have to single-handedly address every step of the transaction.

4. How do you communicate with clients? Will you be the main point of contact throughout the transaction?

Every real estate attorney will communicate differently, and if they’re great at what they do, they’ll specifically tailor that communication to their clients’ wants and needs. Some clients, like first-time homebuyers, prefer to have frequent communication and explanations through every step of the process (aka hand-holding). Other clients prefer a more “as-needed” approach with communication limited to when they absolutely need to be updated on something. Regardless of which type of communication you’re looking for, it’s worth voicing this to your attorney and asking how, and how often, they typically communicate.

Another important factor to discuss is how your real estate attorney will keep your information secure. While most real estate firms adhere to best practices and standards, many do not have security systems in place that keep all information “under lock and key.” Ligris adheres to the top security and privacy standards in the industry to provide the utmost assurance to clients. By adopting all of the measures necessary to meet CFPB and ALTA best practices, as well as being SOC2 certified, you can trust Ligris to protect all of your data.

5. How much does it cost to hire a real estate attorney?

Attorney fees are often not transparent or predictable, since most work on an hourly rate basis. Furthermore, fees can vary widely depending on experience level, reputation, the complexity of the transaction, and location. It is best to discuss fees upfront with your attorney and understand how they set their pricing structures and how they bill. It is considered best practice to ensure you sign an engagement letter from a prospective attorney. This document explains the nature of the relationship between the client and attorney, the scope of work, and the fee structure.

Flat fees can provide more predictability, but that structure may not be reasonable given your particular legal needs. Also, it’s important to note that cheaper isn’t always better. Sometimes you get what you pay for, which could be a major headache if your attorney does not specialize in real estate matters.

If you are considering purchasing real estate, prioritize finding the best real estate attorney to represent you and guide you through your transaction. A seasoned real estate attorney can ease the stress of this significant financial decision and protect you from any legal issues that may arise. If you are thinking about buying or selling, contact experienced real estate attorney Elizabeth Perez Barletta at Ligris + Associates.

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