My firm receives roughly three phone calls a month from people that have bought or sold homes without the help of a professional real estate attorney and experience post-closing issues. As real estate lawyers, we're here to help avoid having to make those phone calls in the first place.
In the State of Florida, it's not required to have an attorney for your closing transactions – but it is highly recommended. Buying a home is a significant investment, and similarly selling a home is a significant transaction. Whether buying or selling, you need an attorney on your side, representing your best interests. A real estate agent plays a very important role, but they're not attorneys, nor do they render legal advice. Similarly, in Florida, a title agency serves a role, but they're an independent third party. They do not “represent” you. However, a board certified real estate attorney can represent you and look out for your best interests. So, why exactly do you need an attorney on a real estate transaction? Following are important issues that an experienced real estate attorney will assist with:
Taking Title - An attorney will help you avoid post-closing issues by clarifying important issues at the outset. Firstly, how do you want to take the title – individually? Jointly? Perhaps you are better suited with a life estate, trust or other type of planning mechanism. It is far better and more cost-effective to address these issues prior to closing.
Tax Planning - Tax planning, including transfer taxes at closing, real estate taxes and potential income taxes, are issues that can be addressed and planned before closing takes place if you discuss it with an experienced real estate attorney beforehand.
Surveys - An attorney will help you raise and review important survey and title issues that a title agent may not share with you – or may not know to. In fact, some title agents close without a survey. However, we always recommend closing with a survey reviewed and commented on by an attorney.
Title Objections - Your attorney will also raise title objections that a title agent may not raise with you. As a buyer, you should receive a title commitment in advance of closing, and a title policy following closing. An experienced attorney will know what objections should be raised so that you obtain the cleanest title policy possible. They will also help guide a buyer in raising objections to the results of a lien search, and assist a seller in addressing liens and open permits.
HOA & Condominium Associations - Your attorney will assist with HOA and condominium association matters and help you navigate the maze that is Florida Community Associations.
Inspections – An experienced real estate attorney will work with you on inspections, review the inspection report and work with you on the best way to address any issues that may arise.
Title Issues - Your attorney will help you address any open permits, liens or other title issues that may arise where some extra guidance is required.
Contracts – Your attorney will help you understand all of the nuances in a the contract. For example, many typical contracts give the seller, in certain circumstances, the right to cancel at certain time. As a buyer, you may not want to enter into that kind of contract, no matter how standard it is, or how many times a realtor says they've used it. Whether you are a buyer or seller, the contract should always be reviewed by an attorney to help protects your interests.
If You’re the Seller – An attorney will know how to respond to any of the buyers’ comments to inspections.
As a Florida Bar Board Certified Real Estate Attorney, with 30 years of practice in this field, my experience is that the smoothest closings are done when there is an attorney on both sides of the transaction. We work with counsel and clients, helping get both parties to the closing table. And believe it or not, closing fees charged by attorneys are actually comparable to those charged by title agents, however the scope of services that attorneys can render are far greater than a title agent.
Consider it like this. If you're going to fly on an airplane and economy cost the same as business class – why not fly business class? Using an attorney on a real estate transaction is like flying business class for same price as flying economy.
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