The Role of a Real Estate Lawyer

Both the buyer and the seller may hire a lawyer to represent their interests in the purchase or sale of a house. A lawyer’s role can be as broad as his or her client wishes it to be.  Typically, the terms of a lawyer’s representation, including the scope of his or her work and the fee for that work, are set forth in a written agreement between the lawyer and the client.  If the attorney doesn’t offer to provide this on his own, we recommend that you request it.

If you’re buying a home, your lawyer should:

  • Help you understand the purchase contract, including how you will take title on the property
  • Check that there are no covenants, easements, liens, etc. registered against the property that will impede your use of it
  • Prepare and register all the legal documents
  • Clarify the terms of the mortgage and work with your bank, if necessary, to modify them
  • Scrutinize the adjustments, including taxes owing and utilities costs paid, prior to the transaction closing
  • Attend the closing and review all the papers you will be required to sign
  • Arrange title insurance protection to protect you from losses due to title defects
  • Ensure you receive a valid registered ownership subject only to the liabilities you have accepted

If you’re selling a home, your lawyer should:

  • Review the binder and review or prepare the purchase and sale agreement, including negotiating its terms
  • Prepare the deed and power of attorney if necessary
  • Deal with title issues as they arise and help correct them
  • Attend the closing and review all the papers you will be required to sign
  • Arrange for transfer of security deposits
  • Arrange for insurance certificates if needed

A lawyer is ethically bound to competently and thoroughly represent the interests of his or her client only, and is also obligated to keep confidential all communications with his or her client relating to the purchase or sale.

How much does this all cost?

Typically, legal fees are higher when you buy than sell because the role of the buyer’s lawyer is more extensive; however, most fees range from $500 to $1,500.  Some lawyers charge a flat fee for specific services and others bill by the hour. If you are paying by the hour, make sure you understand what the final cost is likely to be and insist on regular accounting for charges. Usually, a lawyer can easily estimate costs related to a real estate transaction and his or her fees will only go higher if something goes wrong. Remember, even if your deal does not close, you’ll still owe your lawyer for his or her time.

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