“What’s the difference between a real estate agent and a real estate attorney?”
It might sound like the opening of yet another corny lawyer joke but, in reality, there are several key differences in the roles of real estate agents and real estate attorneys, and buyers should know and understand each before buying a home.
While there is some cross-over between an agent and an attorney, each has a distinct set of responsibilities through the entire home buying process, even though the common goal is a new home for their clients. Below are several steps in the home buying process in which the agent and the attorney each play a significant role; all the more reason that both should be members of your real estate team.
Finding the right home: As obvious as this might sound, the job of your real estate agent is to help you find the right house in the right neighborhood, in the right price range. But there’s more to finding the “right house” than simply ensuring that it has three bedrooms, for instance, or that it is close to the park. To a real estate attorney, the “right house” has a clear title and no unrecorded liens, such as prior mortgages of construction liens. To that end, your attorney can examine the title to your dream home property to make sure it doesn’t become a legal nightmare.
What will you pay? Your real estate agent is really on the front line for you in negotiating and eventually determining the price you will pay for the home. He or she will also negotiate the terms of the deal. Still, the final purchase price doesn’t accurately reflect the deal’s final impact on your pocketbook. Your attorney can give you a more complete picture of your pending financial obligations, including income tax or estate tax consequences, property taxes, zoning or special assessment fees. Your attorney will also help you deal with any probate issues, will give you advice on how to simplify a future sale, and will ensure that the title to the property is marketable if you decide to sell or refinance later.
Preparing the contract: If buyers will see any cross over in responsibilities between the agent and attorney, it is in the preparation of the contract. In fact, the preparation of the final contract in many cases is a joint effort. Real estate agents are fully capable of preparing purchase contracts for their clients, and many do so with input from their client’s attorney. Many contracts, however, should be contingent upon an attorney’s approval, and in some instances it is more expedient to simply have the real estate attorney prepare the contract. At the very least, a real estate attorney should always review the terms of your contract before you sign it, since it is a legally binding document and a blue print or road map for the closing later on.
Property inspections: Once you’ve made an offer on a home, the property is subject to inspection. Your agent can be on-site for these inspections, taking note of any issues that might arise. The next step is having your attorney review the inspection report to determine whether any repairs need to be made by the seller pursuant to the terms of the contract. Your attorney can also inform you about any seller contingencies that resulted from the inspections, which many times can affect your interests. If the roof leaks or the foundation is cracked, for instance, your attorney will these issues with the seller, and make arrangements with them for either repairs to be made or an allowance to be given at closure. In the end, the house and everything in it must be in working order, either when the contract is signed, or when the property finally changes hands.
Closing: Your agent will coordinate the closing on your house, where all the documents are given a final review and signed by all parties. Your attorney or the seller’s attorney will typically prepare the closing documents, escrow and disburse funds, issue title policies for buyers and lenders and conduct the closing. For most buyers, the closing is considered the last step in the process; unfortunately, in many cases, it’s only the beginning of new problems. Among the issues that can crop up during a closing are no certificate of occupancy for past renovations or additions to a home; sellers not leaving behind specific items as promised; and sellers remaining in the house after closing. Both your agent and your attorney are your advocates at the closing, but your attorney can explain each document being signed as well as the closing statement, which is a list of credits and debits to each party’s side of the balance sheet. He or she will ensure that all of the documents relating the title to the property, mortgage financing and the closing itself are correct and in order.
Our South Florida Real Estate Attorneys are here to help you with the following:
We can help you in all aspects of real estate law. Having a real estate lawyer on your side can mean the difference between paying inflated rates and property taxes and smoothly transitioning home equity into viable income. Do not be a victim of a bad real estate deal!
Are you in need of an attorney experienced in Florida Real Estate Law? If you or anyone you know are in need of an experienced South Florida Real Estate Attorney, please contact us.