You got that? A real estate attorney. Not your cousin’s best friend who just passed the bar and is working as a paralegal for a slip-n-fall ambulance chaser. Hire someone who is well versed and fluent in real estate law, particularly in your area. Get recommendations from your realtor, friends and colleagues who have recently and successfully closed on a house. Your realtor in particular will likely know the most active and prolific attorneys in the region that bang out several closings a week, understand the time sensitivity of each transaction and are accustomed to working with speed and precision. Some buyers belong to a union and will be able to get a free or steeply discounted attorney. I have worked with several buyers that have used free or discounted attorneys and I don’t usually see that end well. On the contrary, that bargain can end up costing you dearly. The old adage “you get what you pay for” has never more acutely applied. A real estate attorney is one of the most important if not THE most important party you engage, and will not generally cost more that $1300-1500 flat fee for the best of the best. They are in charge of protecting your earnest money deposit which is A LOT more than that. The standard is to put 10% of the purchase price down at contract signing, but of course it all depends on your down payment. If you are putting less than 10% down total, you will put the entire amount down at contract signing. With so much on the line, isn’t it worth investing in quality. Attorneys are, above all, in charge of getting the contract ready for signature, and I’ll tell you first hand, you will not be pleased when an attorney that is cheap and thus overwhelmed drags their feet, annoys the seller, and costs you the house. At that point you could be out the same amount in inspection money as it would have cost you to hire a decent attorney. And you will not be thrilled when they are so busy that they overlook certain clauses that may screw you in the end because they do not take the necessary time and care in contract review. I have seen it all and trust me, it’s not cute.
A little anecdote – I once had a first time home buyer that wanted to purchase a “flip” property. A flip is a property that has been bought, fixed up and sold for a large profit in a relatively short time span. The property was undergoing construction when we went into contract. My buyer and her husband were teachers, and as such, were entitled to a free real estate attorney through their union. This is one of the most glaring examples I can think of to illustrate the principle that you get what you pay for. Both the listing agent and I advised the attorneys via email that the transaction should be treated as new construction because it was effectively pre-built, down to the studs, and we were not able to perform the inspection, and that there should be an inspection clause in the contract. We stipulated this clearly because in New York, home inspections are generally performed in advance of contract signing. Of course, I should not have to tell an attorney what to do, and believe me it was NOT at all appreciated. This attorney was combative, unresponsive and uncooperative throughout the process, miserly refusing to share the contract with me. Suffice it to say, once the home was near completion, my buyers revealed to me that the inspection clause never did make its way into the contract. When questioned, the attorney angrily asserted that the buyers should have done their inspection prior to contract signing, and he had no way of knowing (translation: remembering) that the transaction should be regarded as new construction. When the initial email was forwarded to him, he brushed it aside and muttered something about “water under the bridge.” My buyers were lucky in that the seller was unaware that the inspection contingency never did land in the contract, or they would have been saddled with costly repairs for the shoddy bits of workmanship that showed up in the home inspection.