If you’re in the process of buying or selling a home, apartment or condo there are likely a lot of people involved in the process – a buyer’s agent, a seller’s agent, a mortgage broker, an appraiser, inspectors, and the list goes on. But what about a real estate attorney?

Most people buying or selling property are looking to cut down on expenses anywhere possible, so you may be wondering – do I really need a real estate attorney? You may think this is an area where you can cut back on expenses or avoid adding more people into the process, but there is much more than that to consider. So we’re going to break it down for you – when you do or don’t need a real estate attorney.

The Law

Depending on what state you’re in, you may not have much of a choice on whether or not to hire a real estate attorney during your transaction. Generally, a real estate agent is experienced enough and authorized to assist you with the legal tasks associated with buying or selling a property. There are some states that require you to use a lawyer to prepare documents and close the transactions. So the first step is to do your research on what your state requires.

Customs in New York City

While in New York State you aren’t required by law to have an attorney present during the buying and selling process, in New York City it is customary for both the buyer and seller to have one present throughout the process. Working with co-ops and condos in the city can prove to be a much more complicated process than that seen for other types of properties. Most brokers in New York may go so far as to say that they’ve never been part of a transaction where an attorney wasn’t present. Furthermore, it may be best to ask your agent for a recommendation for a licensed real estate attorney. Real estate agents will have the aligned intention to want to work with professionals who have a proven track record of being resourceful and responsive.

Typically the seller’s attorney will assist in negotiations and prepare the first draft of the home sale contract. The buyer’s attorney will look into the financial health of the co-op and review meeting minutes for any red flags. A real estate attorney in NYC will have a tremendous amount of experience with co-ops and other New York residential properties so they know exactly what problem areas to look for.

Other Times When You Might Need an Attorney

While generally you don’t need an attorney for a real estate transaction in states and cities where it isn’t typical or required to use one, there may be unique situations that arise that would make it at the very least, sensible. A general rule of thumb is that if you plan to engage in any type of agreement or transaction that is out of the ordinary you may want to consult an attorney.

For example, perhaps there are questions about the property line. Maybe there are existing tenants in a multi-family property that you need to evict. It’s possible that you need to rent the property for a period of time before purchasing it. These are all elements that are outside the ordinary real estate transaction. It would be sensible for you to engage an attorney to be sure you have all your ducks in a row before signing on the dotted line.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to make a huge mistake during your real estate transaction that may result in heartache and lost money for you in the long run. And the expenses may be less than you think. In New York City attorneys typically take a set fee that should just be factored into your overall budget for your new property. On the flip side, if you’re facing a very straightforward, traditional real estate transaction outside of New York City in a state where an attorney isn’t required, a licensed real estate agent should have enough expertise to advise you on all the legalities related to your transaction.