A real estate attorney is an essential member of a home buyer’s team. Especially in today’s tight, competitive, low-inventory market, having the best legal representation helps a buyer move from an accepted offer to a signed contract and, eventually, a closing.
We spoke to Long Island industry professionals to find out the best way to find a lawyer and some key things to keep in mind.
Don’t hire any lawyer
All agents and attorneys say the same thing — hire an attorney who either specializes or is heavily experienced in real estate law.
“If you have a problem with your foot, you’re not going to go to a general practitioner, you go to a foot doctor,” says Mitchell Diamond, a real estate attorney with the Diamond Law Group in Massapequa Park.
Most real estate agents have attorneys they recommend to their clients and, generally, home buyers and sellers tend to go with their broker’s recommendation.
“I always ask the buyer or seller if they have an attorney, as they may if they’ve bought or sold a home before,” says Jeanne Posillico Leonard, an agent in the Cold Spring Harbor office of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. “If not, I always refer at least three real estate attorneys.”
Posillico Leonard also recommends that buyers start doing their homework to make sure they have an attorney in place before submitting offers.
John Donnelly, a real estate attorney in Floral Park, says he received a call on a recent Thursday from clients who had lost out on five homes because they were either outbid or not ready with a lender or an attorney.
“They were in contract to buy by Saturday afternoon,” Donnelly says. “If you don’t have somebody who is equipped to handle a real estate transaction immediately, it can cost you the ability to buy a house. You have to move quickly in this market.”
Hire someone local
It’s best to hire someone who is familiar with local ordinances. For example, an attorney who is familiar with local zoning laws can verify that an addition to a home is conforming and whether a certificate of occupancy has been obtained, Leonard says.
“If an attorney is local and they are educated and informed of local ordinances, they’re going to be able to make recommendations to their client of what they might do,” Leonard says. “Attorneys have great access to the town hall. If they’re not from the area, it may take more time.”
Make sure they’re accessible
Kelley Taylor, the branch manager of Douglas Elliman Real Estate’s Huntington office, says it’s a good idea to hire a full-time practicing attorney with staff on hand in case the attorney is busy with a client or at a closing.
“Time is of the essence every single day,” Taylor says. “These buyers in bidding wars, and they shouldn’t lose out because their attorney isn’t available.”
Diamond has four people on his team, “so someone always has an answer to their questions,” he says.
A property is not fully in contract until the buyer signs, and sellers may still be entertaining other offers. Sellers usually expect contracts to be signed within a week.
“Sellers usually like contracts signed by the buyer within five business days,” Posillico Leonard says. “I like to use an attorney who is easy to reach either by text or by email and an attorney with the ability to expedite and do things remotely. No one has to meet with their attorneys if they don’t want to.”
Many attorneys have begun sending contracts electronically and using e-signatures to speed the process along.
Know the cost and process
Typically, real estate attorneys charge a flat fee ranging from $1,200 to $1,500, says Donnelly. Some may base their fee on the purchase price while others may charge an hourly rate.
Once an offer is accepted, the seller’s attorney drafts a contract. The buyer’s attorney then runs a title search to see if there are any liens on the property or taxes owed.