Do I need a real estate attorney to buy a house? This reader can’t find a residential real estate attorney and wants to know how to proceed without one.
Q: I have a goal of becoming a first-time homebuyer soon. I picked up Ilyce’s 100 Questions Every First-Time Homebuyer Should Ask book and found it very enlightening. So let me begin by saying thank you!
I live in Texas and I am having difficulty finding a real estate attorney. I have asked my coworkers, friends and even some real estate agents for attorney recommendations. I have universally been told they don’t know any and some have gone so far as to suggest I should proceed without one.
I tried looking online, but the ones I have found seem to have a focus on commercial real estate. Is there something different about Texas that makes hiring a real estate attorney superfluous? I’m very surprised I can’t find anyone who says they hired an attorney during the home buying process. Do you have any recommendations?
Do I Need a Real Estate Attorney to Buy a House?
A: Thank you for buying Ilyce’s book. We’re glad you have found it helpful. You’re going to find it difficult to find a real estate attorney to help you out in Texas. In many states, particularly in the south and the western quadrants of the U.S., it’s unusual for buyers and sellers to hire their own attorney in the purchase or sale of the home.
Buyers and sellers may encounter a closing attorney, but not an attorney that has a duty of loyalty to either the buyer or the seller. In states like Texas, the custom is not to use a seller’s or buyer’s attorney, which in any case is quite different from a closing or settlement attorney.
The Difference Between a Closing Attorney and a Buyer’s or Seller’s Attorney
We’ve written about these differences before but in essence, a closing attorney (interchangeable with settlement attorney) doesn’t work for the buyer or the seller. The closing attorney’s role is to process the paperwork that facilitates the transfer of title from the seller to the buyer without actually representing either the buyer and seller in the transaction. The closing attorney’s role does not include dispensing advice to either party, nor is the attorney there to represent either side. When disputes arise between the buyer and seller, the closing attorney plays no role in settling that dispute.
A seller’s attorney has the responsibility to represent the seller’s best interests in the sale of the home. When there are disputes with the buyer, the seller’s attorney is there to attempt to resolve that dispute in the seller’s favor. Likewise, a buyer’s attorney works to resolve disputes in the buyer’s favor, answer the buyer’s questions and tries to keep the buyer out of trouble.
Disputes still happen in states where attorneys do not represent the buyer and seller. When disputes arise, the buyer or seller may need to hire a litigation attorney to resolve the issue, a prospect that is often far more expensive and time-consuming, and whose outcome is more uncertain. In some cases, the parties may resolve the issue through arbitration but may still require the services of an attorney to help them out. In states where attorneys represent buyers and sellers, the parties receive legal counsel along the way and the hope is to resolve any issues before things get out of hand and a lawsuit gets filed.
How to Proceed Without a Residential Real Estate Attorney
But, you live in Texas, and can’t find an attorney to represent you in your residential purchase. That’s because your market doesn’t support the use of residential real estate attorneys in the home buying process and commercial real estate attorneys prefer to stick with their commercial transactions, which are typically more lucrative.
So where does that leave you? Probably without a real estate attorney to work with through the home buying process. Your real estate agent and lender may answer some of your questions along the way. Ilyce’s book includes answers to many questions that are commonly asked during the home buying process. None of this, we think, replaces the advice of a good real estate attorney, but you’ll start off on a good footing if you hire an excellent real estate agent, home inspector, and lender.
Read Everything and Do Your Research
You know what else will help? Read everything before you sign anything. You don’t want to sign something and then have someone tell you down the line that you had agreed to something you didn’t fully understand. You’ll need to advocate for yourself. Ask more questions. Be on the lookout for what’s important.
Take it a step further and go online to research more about the property you’re buying: understand the taxes you’ll pay, when (and how) tax values change, what local customs say about leaving or taking appliances, when to ask for a home warranty, who should pay for closing costs and expenses in your area, what disclosures must be given to you by the seller and what each disclosure means to you. Know what inspections should be done on the home (radon, termite, septic, well water, lead paint, lead in the water, general home inspection and structural inspections), and know when you have contract deadlines and what it means to miss those deadlines.
With eyes wide open, we’re sure you can advocate for yourself through the homebuying process. We’d be interested to know what our readers have to say about going through their home buying process without the help of a real estate attorney, and will publish comments in a future column.