Why You Need a Real Estate Attorney

You know when something goes so horribly wrong, you can only laugh about it? It’s like your ability to say words has completely vanished and all that’s left is a string of uncontrollable laughter followed by a groan full of cringe. Well, that was my Monday.

Over the years, I’ve been warned of the horrors of not using a real estate attorney, but there was never an actual story to go along with them—just the “don’t ever make that mistake.” I understood that real estate law is a specialized practice that offers the protection of a buyer or seller during a transaction, but thankfully, I’d never seen the true reasons of why you need, specifically, a real estate attorney and not just any old attorney. With almost 40 years of combined experience, my client’s lender & real estate attorney had never seen anything like this either.

So, what happened? My client found a cute little 1 bedroom condo that she’s going to renovate into her dream home, and the seller accepted her offer to purchase it. The seller, who also happens to be an attorney (not in real estate though), represented himself in the sale, and it all kind of went downhill from there. While the time we were under contract was a little shaky, it was the day of closing when the train completely derailed.

 

In an effort to not completely rip this situation apart (because trust me, I could), below is a very summarized version of what happened. Believe me, everything that could go wrong did & people’s personalities only made it that much worse. Also, this is just one example of why hiring a real estate attorney is so crucial.

 

1. Using the Proper Title Company

Title companies make sure that the title (your rights to the property) is legit & clear of issues and then provides title insurance for that property. That insurance protects you against potential lawsuits or claims that result from disputes over the title. With that said, every state is different in their laws & regulations, so when the seller/attorney hired an Indiana based title company, everyone raised their eyebrows.

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What made matters worse was because the seller/attorney isn’t a practicing real estate attorney, he didn’t know that this Indiana based title company didn’t practice in Illinois anymore, having recently closed their Chicago satellite office. Basically, that meant that the title company had no idea how to properly close in Illinois. So, when we sat down at the closing table and the title company representative was asking for ID’s from everyone (not a standard practice in Illinois) and requesting signatures on documents that aren’t even used or, mind you, legal here, my client’s attorney stood his ground in protecting both the buyer and myself, refusing to give the title company our personal information and unnecessary signatures binding her to inappropriate and unenforceable documents.

 

2. Being Timely & Prepared

Being able to close on time is incredibly important. Just imagine the chain reaction when a buyer can’t close on a home. The seller, who was going to use the proceeds from the sale to buy another home, now can’t close on his new home, and the cycle continues down the line. Luckily, that wasn’t the case here, but my client’s mortgage rate would only be good for a few more days so time was of the essence.  It was unsurprising to see a series of events resulting in the rescheduling of the closing from 11am to 2pm (and later, an attempt from the seller to reschedule a closing 2 weeks away).

Because everyone had to change their day around, you could feel the irritation in the room which only got worse as we eventually found out, an hour into the closing, that the seller/attorney wasn’t aware he had to provide the buyer with a package of documents in order to close.

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And, these weren’t just any documents that were missing. They were the documents…like the deed, and per Illinois law, only an attorney can provide most of these pertinent seller’s documents.

Plus, did the seller/attorney have power of attorney (he could sign on behalf of his family member he co-owned the condo with) and get approval for it? Sure didn’t. There was definitely a point where our attorney just dropped to his knees in pure shock.

 

3. Protecting You & Your Interests

As you probably predicted, my client’s attorney pulled us outside of the room, explained how bad the situation really was & advised my client not to close—not right then and there anyway. Between fighting for my client’s rights and knowing he wouldn’t be getting paid, my client’s best interests were his main concern, and it was in her best interest to walk away. He also spoke to the seller/attorney and explained the grave mistake he could be making by not only continuing to represent himself but by also continuing to use this Indiana title company. Thankfully the seller’s Broker, cringing with embarrassment, immediately called up her go-to real estate attorney to take over the deal.

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After we essentially stormed out like it was some high drama movie, the seller/attorney hired a well-known real estate attorney, and thanks to two very skilled real estate attorneys in Chicago, we were able to close a few days later—not to mention the fact my client was able to keep her quoted mortgage rate, which was significantly lower than today’s going rate.

 

As the old adage goes, a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. If you’re not a lawyer, then do yourself a favor and hire one specific to your needs. Don’t be a fool.