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Real Estate Lawyers

The Job

Real estate lawyers handle all legal issues involving real property transactions such as the transfer of titles and deeds, obtaining mortgages, zoning, and tenant concerns. Their knowledge of real estate law is essential whether working on the sale of a bungalow or a multimillion-dollar skyscraper development. Individuals may retain the services of a lawyer to help them negotiate complicated details of a purchase, sale, or lease of property. Corporations also use the legal expertise of real estate lawyers when acquiring land for development, rehabbing existing property, or battling to change zoning boundaries or laws.

The purchase of a house or building can be intimidating; no wonder many people often retain lawyers to successfully guide them through this process. Lawyers first discuss the details of the purchase with their client. What type of property is the individual interested in purchasing—a single-family house, a multi-unit dwelling, a commercial property, or a mixed-use property? In the example of a home sale, the real estate lawyer may ask the following questions: What are the client’s present living arrangements—do they own property, or are they currently leasing or renting? Is the offer contingent on the sale of their current residence? Does the property have a lien against it? Lawyers may also be asked to give advice or referrals regarding financing options, real estate agencies, mortgage brokers, or home inspectors. Lawyers will also follow the same steps when representing the seller. In addition, they may draft a property disclosure report. Lawyers will review any pending contracts or riders, explain confusing terminology, initiate any changes, or draft/execute a punch list.

Lawyers also represent their clients at closing. They make sure contracts and other documents are in order, tax and escrow calculations are accurate, and answer any questions from their clients. For cases under litigation, lawyers will represent their client in court.

Owners of a multi-unit apartment building often enlist the expertise of a real estate lawyer to help with problem tenants. Condominium homeowner’s associations often hire a real estate expert to draft or review their by-laws—a list of regulations to be followed by members. Lawyers may also prepare a declaration—a list of regulations, which helps form a sense of unity with homeowners within a subdivision or living community.

Real estate lawyers may also work on larger, multi-property cases. They are often retained by big corporations to negotiate the sale or purchase of a high-rise building, office building, warehouse, or open parcel of land. In such cases, titles must be inspected and zoning laws reviewed. Sometimes the lawyer finds it necessary to initiate the process of rezoning the desired location from residential to commercial, or vice versa. Lawyers may also help in bidding for the property’s final price.

Local governments also retain the services of real estate lawyers to help with various projects. For example, if town officials want to build an entertainment and sports complex on an undeveloped piece of land, lawyers may need to investigate public records and deeds to establish title to the property. They then negotiate a fair price with the owner. They also handle zoning issues, land inspections, and surveyors' reports before construction can begin.