By Broderick Perkins
If you’re selling your home yourself, bank some of the money you expect to save on a good real estate attorney who can help you through contractual matters and get you through any legal pitfalls during negotiations, in escrow or after the deal closes.
"If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, paying $5,000 or even more should more than justify the expense to avoid litigation and the sometimes astronomical amount of attorney's fees needed to finance litigation," said David M. Trapani, a real estate attorney in San Jose, CA.
Actual costs can range from a few hundred dollars for a simple contract consultation to thousands for more of a hands-on job, but cost shouldn't be your only criteria for choosing a good attorney.
Seek well-rounded real estate counsel
First, your counsel should be experienced with real estate contracts. That's a given.
"If some attorney has to read the sales contract to help you through it, that person doesn't have the knowledge. You want someone who already knows the contracts inside and out and can tell you what's in them and help you complete it," said Ron Rossi, a San Jose real estate attorney who helped develop a real estate sales contract in widespread use in California.
Your attorney should be experienced in both real estate statutory law and case law and be familiar with local real estate customs, practices and traditions.
Finding an attorney with actual litigation experience is a plus, too, says San Jose, CA broker John V. Pinto. He says your attorney should also be prepared to help with all transaction matters and he or she should carefully examine all the paperwork, not just the contract.
"He should also be able to help with writing counter offers, attend any inspections
that take place and he should be able to interpret inspection reports and administer all the escrow instructions. Along with all the technical stuff, he should also help withnegotiations
and join you for a final walk-through of the property," Pinto said.
Also a working knowledge of disclosures
, title and escrow procedures
, contingencies, financing, how to hold title and legal matters that crop up after a sale are all qualities you should seek in an attorney.
Also check for malpractice insurance coverage as a special safeguard. It's often not mandatory, but it does provide you with additional protection.
Be sure to ask the attorney for referrals to former or present clients you can talk with about their level of satisfaction.
"Finally, it would be nice to get a free half hour to an hour of consulting to gauge the issues and determine whether or not he or she can assist the client," said Trapani.
Attorney search techniques
The key to finding this dream-team-of-one is trust. Start with referrals from those you trust, relatives, friends, co-workers or others recently satisfied with an attorney they hired.
Consider real estate attorneys professionals use.
Even if you don't hire a real estate agent, there's no harm in calling a few to get a referral to the attorneys they retain.
"A fair percentage of referrals come to me from real estate agents who don't want to be in a non-compensation arrangement and they have a buyer working with a FSBO," said David Hofmann, a San Jose attorney retained by the American Association of Retired People for a mortgage fraud class action suit.
Likewise, call the local real estate association or real estate board. They often retain counsel who know real estate law from purchase contracts to pending legislation.
"If we trust him with 4,000 REALTORS' legal business, I think the public can trust him too," said Julie Ziemelis, public relations manager with the Santa Clara County (San Jose, CA) Association of Realtors.
Other professionals, including certified public accountants, tax professionals, personal finance advisors, physicians, your union representative and other attorneys are all good referral sources who often have the need of a real estate attorney or include them in their network of professionals.
"We have worked with many attorneys over the years and have several we highly recommend. There are some others we wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole," said Leonard W. Williams, a CPA in Sunnyvale, CA.
Most county bar associations also offer a referral service from a data base of local attorneys listed by expertise. Many such referral services will often give you a choice of several you can interview before you choose one.
Broderick Perkins, has been a consumer journalist for 20 years. Experienced in print, electronic, and consulting journalism, he is chief executive editor of San Jose, CA-based, DeadlineNews.Com, an editorial content and consulting firm.