4 Things a Real Estate Attorney Wants You To Know About Buying a House

published Jan 7, 2022
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When a prospective homebuyer embarks on their house hunt — you know, that ol’ shopping trip for the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy in your whole entire life — one of the last things they probably stop and think is, “What would my lawyer say about this?” 

Heck, unless you’re an old-timey mobster or a world-renowned actress whose contracts need reviewing, you probably don’t even have an attorney. But no matter what, once you pass the Zillow search stage and start getting serious about an offer, it’s time to bring in the legal professionals.

The back-end of the house hunt is the scariest part, honestly. My partner and I bought a home this past fall, so I know the “What is escrow?” and “How many documents am I signing right now!?” jitters personally. But you know what? The legal details of buying a house aren’t too scary when you have a slam-dunk real estate attorney. I loved mine so much that I begged her to share some insider tips for homebuyers from a real estate attorney’s perspective. Here are four pieces of wisdom she wants you to know.

Having a Legal Expert on Hand Is a Good Idea

Not every state requires that homebuyers utilize the assistance of a real estate attorney. But before you attempt to go at it alone, Penelope D. Antonopoulos, Attorney at Law and real estate law expert, suggests you pause before conducting your own research. “Clients… do not understand the obligations they are undertaking and the deadlines they are contractually obligated to meet when they sign a real estate contract,” she says. 

No matter how many homes a buyer has bought and sold, there’s no substitute for experience with the minute details that real estate law entails. “If things do not play out as they should, it is a good idea to have an attorney on your side who is familiar with the transaction who can advocate on your behalf,” Antonopoulos says.

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A Real Estate Attorney Won’t Break the Bank

So you’re taking my advice and moving forward with a real estate attorney. Nice work! With all of the fees associated with purchasing a home — not to mention the actual home’s price tag itself — adding another item to your receipt is understandably concerning. But real estate attorneys often work differently than other types of attorneys.

“In most areas of the law, attorneys charge you at an hourly rate, and many clients are worried about paying a large fee, but that is not the case with real estate,” Antonopoulos says. With a flat rate for real estate attorneys, clients are able to budget for this portion of the buying process. Antonopoulos shares that many firms have additional guidelines to protect the buyer built into the flat fee. For instance, she notes, “My office specifically charges a flat fee payable at closing and only if you close; meaning, no cancellation fees.” Ask about this opportunity when researching real estate attorneys in your area.

Slow Down and Take Your Time

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear about a home receiving multiple competing offers within days of it being listed. While homebuyers are frazzled trying to get their offer in for review as soon as possible, Antonopoulos shares that it’s okay to pump the brakes a bit once the negotiation phase begins. 

“Oftentimes, clients feel pressured or rushed to make decisions and do not consider the long term effects these decisions will have on their purchase,” she says. “Inspection issues, loan decisions, and selection of dates are all big decisions and a homebuyer should not feel rushed or forced into any big decision.” 

Caught up in the flurry of offers and negotiations and the hopes of closing, buyers might also forget to take care in selecting service providers. Antonopoulos points out that this is another area that requires care, attention, and yes — time: “I would also advise a first time homebuyer to select their service providers (inspector, attorney, loan officer, etc.) based on experience and referrals, not just on price.”

Make Sure You’re in Love With Your Home 

It might seem like a no-brainer, but you should really love the home you’re buying. Because as expensive as it can be to buy a home, it can be even worse to back out

“Buyers should really make sure they like the home and location before entering into a contract and spending money on service providers,” Antonopoulos says. “I have seen many buyers want to cancel transactions because they no longer like the area the home is in, or they realize the layout does not work for their family.” 

Before you sit down and sign basically 9,000 documents with your attorney, my dear goodness, do yourself a favor and fall in love — or at least, 85 percent in love — with your home!