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"Investment Property Attorney: Necessary or Just Nice to Have?"


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New multi family income property investors often wonder if they should have a rental property attorney as part of their regular "team." As you might expect, this answer is not cut and dry because it depends on your state as well as the specific issue (not to mention your own personal experience and comfort level).

In some states, you'll need a real estate attorney whenever you buy or sell an investment property. In other states, a title company serves the same purpose, so you would only need an attorney when specific legal problems arise. Talk to your real estate agent for a recommendation.


TYPES OF REAL ESTATE ATTORNEYS


Some investment property attorneys specialize in lawsuits ("litigators") while others specialize in contracts ("transactional lawyers"). Some do both, but more often than not they'll specialize in one area or the other.

Therefore, if your state requires legal representation at the mortgage closing table, you'll probably need one landlord attorney for this function and another one for any legal problems that may arise in the future.


ATTORNEY'S ROLE WHEN BUYING OR SELLING


If you are in a state where attorneys are involved in standard purchase transactions, you'll need representation.

When buying, your real estate lawyer will:

  • Review the purchase contract.
  • Check that there are no covenants, easements or liens against the property.
  • Prepare and register all the legal documents.
  • Scrutinize the HUD-1
  • Attend the closing and review all the papers you will be required to sign.
  • Arrange title insurance protection to protect you from losses due to title defects.
  • Ensure you receive a valid registered ownership subject only to the liabilities you have accepted.

When selling, your real estate lawyer will:

  • Review the binder and review or prepare the purchase and sale agreement.
  • Prepare the deed.
  • Correct title issues.
  • Attend the closing and review all the papers you will be required to sign.
  • Arrange for transfer of security deposits
  • Arrange for insurance certificates if needed.



OTHER ATTORNEY FUNCTIONS


You will probably need a real estate attorney to handle the occasional legal issue no matter what state you are located in. Some examples include:

  • Landlord-tenant disputes
  • Tenant injury claims
  • Lien issues
  • Undisclosed structural or environmental problems discovered after purchase
  • Insurance disputes
  • Zoning problems
  • Title transfers into your real estate LLC


FINDING A GOOD ATTORNEY


If you're in a state that requires a real estate lawyer for simple buy / sell transactions, you'll need one right out of the gate. If not, then you can probably hold off on finding one until a specific need arises.

You have many sources to choose from, including the yellow pages, online search tools, and referrals from agents, friends, or other investors. Obviously, a referral is usually the best source.

Some things to keep in mind during your search for a good landlord attorney:

  • Make sure the attorney specializes in residential real estate, not the commercial, industrial, agricultural, construction, or environmental segments of the market.
  • Make sure the attorney has at least 5 years of experience in your local market.
  • Make sure you get along with the attorney
  • Google the property attorney and see what comes up
  • Ask for references
  • Compare fees (I've seen anywhere from $75 to $200 per hour)

Unless you get a great referral from a trusted source, you'll want to shop around to ensure you make the best choice for your situation.

But don't sweat it too much. If you find out later that your real estate attorney is a jerk, you can always get another one.



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3 Responses to Investment Property Attorney: Necessary or Just Nice to Have?

  1. julie says:

    Hi – does anyone know a good resource to see if my state requires a real estate attorney or title company? Or is it best to ask my agent??

    Thanks,

    Julie

  2. JJ says:

    Hi Julie – I think you should just ask your real estate agent. He or she will definitely know if you need a real estate attorney or not. If you DO NOT need a property attorney, just have the title company coordinate your closing as this will be the cheaper option.

  3. Frankie says:

    I think the author is correct that the need to have a real estate attorney really depends on your state of operation. In my state (OR) I must use an attorney unfortunately.

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