real estate

5 questions to ask a real estate attorney

3. How would you handle my case? It's not out of line to ask an attorney for a brief overview of what he plans to do on your behalf, Hall says. In fact, it can help you determine which attorneys are knowledgeable about real estate law.

"If an attorney doesn't know what he's talking about, you'll get an ambiguous answer like, 'Oh, I'll take care of it, don't worry about it,'" Hall says. "(What he's saying is) ambiguous because the attorney doesn't know what he's going to do. He'll have to go research it."

Seasoned real estate attorneys will give you a rough outline of the actions that need to be taken, such as the filing of certain documents, Hall says.

4. How will you bill me? Knowing the fee schedule for your attorney can help to avoid unpleasant surprises later, Hall says. Most attorneys work on an hourly basis, meaning they will charge you a certain amount for every hour they spend working on your case. Standard hourly fees range from $150 to $200, he says.

For simple matters, you may be able to negotiate a price. "If you're just asking for something to be drafted, that's a great time to ask for a flat fee," Hall says. However, he adds, a case requiring negotiations with another party or spending time in court is generally billed hourly.

5. Who else will be working on my case? Some law firms hand off the initial work on cases to a junior attorney, a paralegal or someone knowledgeable about the law, but not necessarily to a licensed attorney, Quinn says. During your initial consultation, ask who will do the most work on your legal matter and make sure you're comfortable with that person before proceeding.

"A lot of times, especially with homeowners, there are going to be some questions and you're going to interface with the person working on your case," Quinn says. "Determine whether you have a rapport with that person and whether you're getting the kind of attention you want."

After asking specific questions about a real estate attorney's background, be sure to choose the lawyer who makes you feel at ease, McFarlin says. "It can be as much about the personal side of things as anything else," he says.

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