I sat down with Jamie Abrams, Esq. of Bass & Abrams, P.C.  to discuss the importance of using a real estate attorney in buying or selling a house, condo or co-op in Westchester County. Jamie represented my husband and I to close on three homes in the last 15 years. One was a second house in the Catskills (a true challenge) and two here in Hartsdale, New York.

Why should home buyers and sellers value the use of a real estate attorney?  Whether “by sale by owner”, purchasing a foreclosure, REO or Short Sale represented by a real estate broker,  a real estate attorney is critical in acting as your legal advisor, advocate, and negotiator in making the right decisions before closing.

Jamie and I discussed the importance of using a real estate attorney from both the seller’s side and most importantly from a buyers side. Jamie also relayed several examples of of how selling or buying a house is more than just filling out paperwork. So, this will be a two part blog. This blog will cover the general ways real estate attorneys can assist sellers and buyers. My Part II blog will have some interesting scenarios that Jamie has come across over the years!

A real estate attorney assures that your interests and rights are protected and that things run smoothly between the various “players”: you, the other party (be Seller or Buyer), the other party’s lawyer, the mortgage lender, title company, real estate broker(s) if more than one is involved.

A seller wants his purchase agreement to be signed as quickly as possible, but wants to assure that the deal goes through without any subsequent legal issues.  

A buyer, especially in a “Buyer Beware” (Caveat Emptor) State, such as New York, wants to assure that the property is in good order before signing that agreement. A real estate attorney is your only advocate along the way.

Jamie advises her buyers to do their “due diligence” before putting in that offer and think about how they would like to utilize the house; whether they want to put in a pool, have horses in the backyard or build a deck. She tells them that an inspection is a must; but even suggests more detailed analysis, like  researching schools in the area, either by going online to the various sites (insert here), or by actually taking that day or two during the week to visit the school, walk around, talk to the principals or teachers to see what programs they offer. Check out the property listings which are public information on the history of the house in terms of whether it has CO’s (certificate of occupany for upgrades to the property),  on what may look like additions, or what you saw when you visited the property vs what is on the property sheet. Check with the town’s building department on what the rules are if you want to put a deck on back of the house. How many feet does it need to be from your neighbor? If you want to put in a pool, it would be a good idea to check with wetlands department to see what the water levels are in your neighborhood and even if you are in a flood zone (yes, some are even in Westchester).
And, yes, even check out the crime rates and child molestors list!. They are statistics, but can help the buyer have a perspective of other areas.

Contracts and/or deeds - These need to be reviewed by a real estate attorney who is trained to read the “fine print” and is equipped to negotiate the terms in YOUR best interests.

Condo and coop contracts and their rules and regulations can vary.  A real estate attorney is trained to read the “fine lines” in these contracts. Knowing that you cannot hang your towels on the railing of your condo can be disconcerting once you move in! Many people think that owning a condo is the same as a house. But condos also have their rules and regulations for their buildings or communities. Co-ops have boards which require that the prospective buyer have an interview and be approved before they can buy the co-op.     Co-ops also have rules and regulations on what you can or cannot do within your home.

House contracts also need to be reviewed. There can be “convenants and restrictions” that run with the land. For instance, you would want to know that Con Ed is allowed to trim trees and maintain lines on your property, or that there may be something on your property that allows the town, electric company or other to cross your property to get there.

Inspection Review - A real estate attorney will recommend that you get an inspection report and/or hire plumbers, electricians, roofers to evaluate the condition of the home you are buying and to determine if anything needs to be negotiated before the sale is done.

Title Review:  A real estate attorney will liaison with a title company that  researches whether there are any liens, judgments, easements or other encumbrances that would need to be addressed and cleared.  If there are “issues” then the real estate attorney can follow through with the title company and seller to assure that these are rectified. A  real estate attorney also reviews the title insurance covering the property.

Buying a home is one of the largest purchases of your life.  It is both an emotional and financial investment.
Hiring the right experienced real estate attorney as an important part of protecting that investment. Spend the money up front so that when you move into your new home, or you sell your home to move into a new home, you can focus on decorating once you move rather than legal issues!

Part II will include challenges of a real estate attorney in home transactions!

Thomas Ricapito Headshot
Phone: 914-804-3048
Dated: August 1st 2012
Views: 3,500
About Thomas: I got into real estate sales by accident in 2006. At the time, I recently earned a Bachelor's Degre...

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