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Do you need a real estate attorney?

You're buying a home. You're already dealing with real estate agents, bankers and possibly a title company. Do you need to hire a real estate attorney?

Maybe.

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It all comes down to your comfort level. Ask: Who's watching out for your interests? Do they have any incentive to talk you into something that might not be right for you? Do they understand the finer points of exactly what you need from the deal?

"Never sign anything you don't understand and feel 100 percent comfortable with," says Robert Shemin, attorney, real estate investor and author of "40 Days to Success in Real Estate Investing." The one paragraph you can't wrap your mind around is certain to be "the one paragraph that gets you in trouble," he says.

For most people, their home is their biggest purchase. They sign mountains of paperwork for both the loan and the property itself. In a good number of cases, they don't have their own attorney and everything goes smoothly.

Other times, an attorney's fee more than pays for itself.

A couple of weeks after Bryan Sklar purchased an investment home, he got a notice from the county that the property had unpaid taxes. He had a few days to pay up or forfeit. His lawyer swung into action. "He paid it for me and sued the previous owner," Sklar says. "It was worth having an attorney."

Sklar has purchased five investment homes, using an attorney every time. He also has his own broker. "You've got to have a good support team," he says. "I've got a real estate agent I've done all my transactions through, even though it cost a bit more. And I've got an attorney I know and trust."

When it comes to the legal end of things, "you need somebody on your side in case something goes wrong," Sklar says.

Before you sign anything
Start with the sales contract. "If you don't understand everything in that contract easily, then you need a professional to represent you," says Shemin. "I would recommend either a very good real estate agent or your own real estate attorney."

One tip the pros have learned: Don't be afraid to ask for help. Shemin has bought and sold hundreds of properties. But one recent California purchase generated "the largest and most complicated contracts," he says. "I spent an hour and a half with a real estate agent" going through each paragraph, he recalls.

"I had a professional agent who had done hundreds of closing in California," he says. But if "at any time I felt uncomfortable or didn't understand anything, I would have picked up the phone and hired an attorney."

Sometimes an attorney can be a good backstop for a real estate agent, says Charles J. Jacobus, a Texas attorney and the author of "Real Estate Principles." If the sellers are "either unreasonable in their request or requesting something out of the ordinary," that's a good time to call on counsel, he says. "And that's usually coupled with the fact that your broker doesn't know what to do either."

 
 
-- Posted: May 16, 2005
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