How to Find a Real Estate Attorney

Why Do I Need a Real Estate Attorney?

If you’re selling your home on your own (FSBO), you’re definitely going to need the services of a real estate attorney. In some states, it’s mandatory. But even if it’s not required where you live, hiring a real estate lawyer is a good idea. There is a lot of paperwork involved in closing a real estate transaction, and the laws governing them vary quite a bit regionally. You don’t want to make a mistake on a transaction this important.

How Do I Find the Best Real Estate Attorney?

Get Referrals Obviously, you want to find someone you trust. So start by asking friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that you trust. Ask a bunch of people, and see who raves about their real estate attorney, versus who is just luke-warm. You only want to talk to the real estate attorneys that people rave about. But don’t just listen when they rave – ask questions. Being enthusiastic because the attorney is nice is very different from enthusiasm due to the skill and knowledge of the attorney. Find out specifically what experience your friend or colleague had with the attorney. Did they just chat at a social gathering, or did the attorney represent them – and do a terrific job – in a difficult case?

Start Searching Early – You need time to get the word out that you’re looking for a real estate lawyer, as well as time to do your research, and then to meet with the better options. You don’t want to be in the position of rushing to find an attorney because you’re closing escrow in two days.

Consider an Attorney You Know – If you’ve used real estate lawyers in the past, and were happy with their services, don’t hesitate to use them again! But if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article. More commonly, you’ve used a lawyer for something other than real estate, and you had a good experience them. Would it be wrong to ask them to look over your contracts? Advice on this differs. Many states have programs that certify lawyers in particular specializations – like real estate. While specific real estate expertise is great – so is having someone who is committed to you and may be willing to go the extra mile. Also, keep in mind that many lawyers are generalists rather than specialists – they handle a lot of different kinds of cases.  And most likely at least some of those cases will be real estate related. So, before dismissing the idea of using a non-specialist, talk to them. Explain your situation and your trepidations. They may encourage you to find someone else – perhaps even refer you to someone – or they may say this is something they would like to do, even if it takes a bit of research to be sure they’re up-to-speed.

What you don’t want to do is hire your cousin or best friend from college just because they need the work. If they happen to specialize in real estate and you know they’re actually really good, then certainly don’t rule them out. But the sale of your home is one of the most important financial transactions of your life – you don’t want it handled by someone inexperienced or less-than-competent because you were doing them a favor.

Check out Websites that Review Attorneys – We’re fortunate to live in a time where it’s easy for people to share their experiences. Take advantage of this by reading what clients have said about the lawyers you’re considering. Keep in mind that people’s view of their attorney may not be objective or fair. Still, if different people are commenting on the same issues (whether positively or negatively), that’s certainly information to take into account.

Use the Bar Association as a Resource – If you’re really having trouble getting referrals, you can always contact your state or local bar association. They will be able to provide a list of real estate attorneys in your area. More importantly, you need to know that any candidate you’re considering hiring is, in fact, an attorney in good standing. Make use of the state bar’s searchable database to determine a particular lawyer’s standing. If there have been any disciplinary actions taken against them, you’ll find them there.

Schedule Consultations – Once you have a few top candidates selected, you’ll want to meet with them in person and evaluate what they have to offer. Many attorneys will allow a free consultation. Your primary purpose in these meetings is twofold: get a sense of their experience with real estate transactions, and get an idea of how comfortable you’ll be working together. While an attorney is unlikely to give you specific advice on your situation during a consultation, they should be able to discuss, in general, the approach they would take. Lastly, try to get an idea of how much handling your case will cost – and whether or not they will personally be handling it or giving it to another lawyer in their firm.  

How Much Does a Real Estate Attorney Cost?

The fees charged by real estate attorneys vary widely. Most will charge by the hour, with rates ranging from $150-$300/hour. For a real estate closing, your lawyer may offer a fixed fee.  In either case, expect to pay on the low end a minimum of $500, and on the high end as much as $1,500.

Finding Top Real Estate Attorneys

Finding the right attorney is more of an art than a science. But going about it systematically and methodically can take out at least some of the guesswork. Closing on a home is one of the most important financial transactions you will make, so you want to be sure you’ve done your due diligence and hired the best real estate attorney possible.