How Important is an Attorney to your Real Estate Transaction?

By: John Harris

Would you sign your name to a multi-million-dollar contract for the company for which you work without an attorney first looking it over? Probably not, because it is your fiduciary responsibility to ensure there is no adverse language in the contract. Yet, we do it for ourselves all the time.

Years ago when I enlisted into the U.S. Navy, several of us were in the same room to sign our enlistment contracts with the government of the United States. Afterwards, we would together go on to the next phase of the enlistment process. Everyone had signed their contracts without reading it and they were grumbling, because I would not sign my contract until I had read every word. The contract was many pages in length and lots of small print. After one guy was a bit too aggressive in his complaints of me making them wait, I quietly looked him straight in the eyes and said, 'You signed your contract without reading it. Did you know that you have agreed to jump off the end of a naval ship into the ocean amidst a ring of fire?' The guy laughed and said the contract did not say that. The senior chief, who was supervising us and in the room, said the contract did say that. While everyone else went green in color and looking ready to throw up, I finished reading the contract. You could say that jumping into a ring of fire in the ocean from a very big naval vessel might be construed as 'adverse language' in a contract.

Signing purchase agreements for real estate is no different; yet, many people sign them every day without reading them, much less having an attorney review them.

The average home will cost you a long-term commitment upwards of $135,000 - much more in the San Diego area. You are going into debt for a large amount of money over a long period of time. It is important to have a real estate attorney review such a contract, as it is for creating any other contract.

A real estate attorney will tell you if the purchase is advisable, if it should be modified to protect you if the transaction goes bad, if it is legally binding as written, and whether there is any adverse language in it. You should be protected against any contingencies and possible outcomes.

The services of a real estate attorney may cost $200 or more to review the contract. Though many realtors assist in this capacity, a real estate attorney is more knowledgeable and experienced, ensuring you get the best advice. That same real estate attorney can represent you in court, where the realtor can only shrug his/her shoulders and, maybe, offer an apology. Additionally, the real estate attorney can prepare all needed real estate documentation, including warranty deeds, title opinions, and documents to clear any title defects.

There are times when having a real estate attorney review a contract could cost you the deal - you could be up against another buyer, who wants the same property and the seller will not wait for the review, which the other buyer is not requiring. In such a case, only sign the purchase agreement after adding the clause: 'Subject to review and approval by attorney of buyer's choosing.'

Remember, once the contract is signed without a contingency clause, it is too late for redress. At that point, a real estate attorney can only advise you on what you have done and little else. The time to hire the real estate attorney is before you sign on the dotted line, not afterward.

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