Do You Need an Attorney When Buying a Home?

The state of Florida doesn’t mandate that homebuyers or -sellers have an attorney present to oversee the transaction. After all, real estate agents use uniform contracts and title companies provide title insurance and handle all the closing procedures. Simple enough, right?

Not necessarily. There are plenty of advantages to having a real estate lawyer, someone who works for you, close your purchase or sale instead of a title company. Herein are just a few.

Fred Morrison and Rick Newman, real estate attorneys

Fred Morrison and Rick Newman, real estate attorneys

1. Full Disclosure of Defects
Florida law requires that the seller of a house, condo or townhome disclose all known defects, even ones that may escape a professional inspection. “A title company isn’t usually concerned with your rights and satisfaction, and the language of their policies can be broad and vague,” says real estate lawyer Richard Newman. “A good real estate attorney understands the specific language that should be included in the contract so the seller can’t sidestep full disclosure without penalty.”

Your real estate attorney can also review the inspection company’s report and contract to ensure you, as a buyer, are sufficiently protected should the inspector fail to adequately assess and denote problems with the property in his or her report. Inspection companies like to limit their responsibility for a flawed inspection, and an attorney can help prevent debate and confusion should unforeseen problems occur.

2. Reduced Risk 
Florida has plenty of foreclosures for sale and some come with attractive price tags. Before you buy a foreclosure, however, you need to know the details of any underlying lawsuit. If the lawsuit contains certain defects, it could open up the possibility of the previous owner challenging the foreclosure, which could cost you legal expenses, time, hassle, and, possibly, the loss of the property. 

In other instances, a residential property might be involved in a legal action brought on by a divorce, bankruptcy, partition action or probate concern. Your lawyer can examine any court filings and assess how complicated a legal issue may make things for you going forward. There could be other concerns too, such as when buying a property from an entity like a business or an estate, or from a seller living outside the US, or one who shares ownership with someone else. A skilled real estate attorney understands the special legal considerations of these and other situations that need to be addressed for a secure sale with minimal hassle.

Another common complication: the home or condo might be plagued with problems within the chain of title, like a delinquent mortgage, unknown liens, an illegal deed, a forged title, unknown or missing heirs, errors in public records or encumbrances limiting use of the property. “Some title companies will go ahead and close the sale once they’re able to secure title insurance, leaving you with whatever fallout may arise,” says Newman. “When buying anything as expensive and important as a home, you can never be too informed. And when there are title issues, we’re here to help resolve them.”

Best advice: know everything up front.

3. Assistance With Unforeseen Complications
There are myriad possible complications that many homebuyers never consider. For example, you can buy a home the previous owner was renting out to a third party, and that third party has a lease in place that prevents you from taking occupancy. This is a common dilemma that can be allayed by an experienced real estate attorney. “You’d be surprised how often this happens,” says real estate lawyer Fred Morrison. “You buy a home and find out someone has a lease to live there for the next year. Our real estate law team can help you create an assignment of lease and, if necessary, start the process of eviction.”

Condominiums can come with their own set of difficulties, due to rules and regulations that are specific to each complex or condo association. You need to know all the details, including rules regarding cohabitants, guests, parking, renting, pets, storage and all monthly and annual dues, including who pays for maintenance and repair for community features like a pool or an activity room. And if the previous owner had a problem with the association, you need to know if there is a lien in place, and if you will need to pay any dues, fees or penalties to take ownership.

If you buy a home or a condo on a waterfront, you need to know about any special restrictions it may have. Can you build or expand a dock on the property? Is the land between your home and the waterway private or is the public free to use it? If you own the property to the waterfront but it’s open to the public, what happens if someone gets hurt there?

Finally, does the home comply with the necessary state and municipal building codes? You can’t always tell if a previous owner’s handiwork will pass inspection, if they have a lien on the property for violating a code or the requirements of their HOA, or if the property is in violation of an easement related to another property. “We can examine the home’s survey and offer legal advice about how to address or prevent disputes with various enforcement agencies and neighbors,” says Newman. “We know how to read these documents and wade through the legalese that so often confuses homebuyers and sellers and get to the bottom line.”

Again, know before you buy.

4. How to Get a Deed With the Most Benefits
Florida offers different ways to receive title to property, and the type of deed you get can make a big difference going forward. Your real estate attorney can help you decide if you’d benefit most from a quit claim deed, a warranty deed, a trustee deed or another type that can support your specific situation as well as your estate planning.

These are just a few of the reasons a real estate lawyer, who works for you and can help negotiate terms on your behalf throughout the process, is a safer way to transact a residential real estate deal than a title company, which has no reason to have a personal interest in your security or peace of mind.

When you need experience, dedication and know-how, McLin Burnsed’s real estate attorneys, Richard Newman and Fred Morrison, are ready to help make the process of buying or selling a home smooth, safe and solid.