Reprinted with permission by James A. Zitesman – www.zitesman.com
A real estate transaction is one of the largest financial and legal transactions that most people will ever do. When considering when to involve an attorney to assist a buyer or seller in a real estate transaction, the old adage of “never sign anything until your attorney is able to examine it” is a good idea. Anytime you are asked to sign a document is when you should involve your attorney. The documents that you will sign in the course of a transaction are all significant. If they are not significant, you won’t be required to sign them. Therefore, from the beginning of the process when a real estate agent asks you sign a representation agreement, either for listing your home for sale or as a buyers’ rep, through the closing, don’t sign anything until your attorney has approved it.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because a form is pre-printed and looks “standard” it does not have significant legal ramifications. The documents you sign may become the basis for a legal dispute in court, so you need to understand what you are signing. The easiest way to protect yourself is to establish a relationship with a knowledgeable and experienced real estate attorney. Determine ahead of time who you will use and what it will cost you. The time to find a real estate attorney is not when you have a problem, but rather before you do so you can hopefully avoid problems. Problems in real estate transactions are much less expensive to avoid than to try to fix.
The most important document in the transaction is the real estate purchase contract. While many Boards of Realtors® have created standard form documents, you will be held accountable for the contents of the document, not the real estate agent or broker. You may negotiate the basic terms of the deal then take it to your attorney to finalize the language. In other cases, the contract may be signed contingent upon your attorney’s approval. Either way, this is the time when you really need to have your attorney involved. You need to understand your rights and responsibilities along with your duties in the contract. By having the contract explained to you by a real estate attorney, you will understand the process better and will be able to conduct yourself accordingly.
The law in Ohio regarding buying real estate is “buyer beware.” Therefore, you need to inspect every home that you intend to buy. Most contracts provide specific procedures regarding inspections and the rights of buyers and sellers regarding remedying any unsatisfactory conditions discovered by the inspections. Drafting a request to remedy is a very important legal phase of the process. You definitely want to have an attorney examine any agreement resulting from the inspections; this applies equally to both buyers and sellers. The courts of Ohio are full of law suits based on issues regarding inspections, remedies, and conditions of property. You don’t want to be another one!
Of course, most people think about possibly having an attorney at the closing, which is a very good idea. Again, this is a time when you will be signing many documents with legal significance. As in the other phases of the transaction, you deserve to be represented.
At this point you may be wondering whether having an attorney will be too expensive. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that many attorneys who regularly practice in the residential real estate area of law are affordable. Many will offer flat fees or limited services. Ask for references, check with Bar associations, and make a few calls. Find an attorney who understands the local market. Establish the relationship before you get started.