Buying a house? You’ve probably got a real estate agent. It’s likely you shopped around for a bank or mortgage lender. You’ll get referrals for title companies and inspectors. But what about a lawyer? Most people don’t consider an attorney an essential part of a real estate transaction, but there are certain circumstances that make having a lawyer on your side a very good idea. Texas Legal attorney Ada Ferrer of the Ferrer Law Firm in Sugar Land talked with us about when people should consider a lawyer to assist them with their home purchase.
Although Ferrer says most people don’t need a lawyer for buying a home, there are several situations where it can be essential.
When Buying Your First Home
If you’re purchasing your first home, there’s probably a lot of new information, complicated forms and industry lingo that you’ve never heard before. A real estate attorney can help you understand the terms of any deal you’re considering and make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.
“It’s always a good idea to know what you’re getting into. A lot of people get taken advantage of, and spending a few hundred dollars for the peace of mind is worth it, especially when you’re going to be spending a few hundred thousand dollars,” says Ferrer.
When a Problem Arises Between Buyer and Seller
Hopefully, your home purchase or sale will go off without a hitch. But problems can and do arise, and a lawyer can help you sort them out. Say perhaps you’ve made an offer on a home, but all of the sudden, the seller becomes reluctant. Perhaps he or she got another offer for more money after accepting yours and wants to renege on your contract or make you pay more. In such a situation, having an attorney to help you enforce what you agreed to can be very helpful, says Ferrer.
When You’re Dealing With a Title Issue
If you’re buying or selling, sometimes problems arise with the title to your home. Perhaps you want to sell your home, but an unpaid debt is preventing you.
“Let’s say the husband went out and got a judgment against him. He and his wife live in the family home – it’s their homestead. This creditor files a judgment against the homestead. Under Texas law, you can remove that judgment from the homestead, so they can sell the house,” says Ferrer.
Another example might be a couple that owned a home together and now is divorced. One spouse got the house in the divorce settlement, but the other spouse’s name is still on the deed. A lawyer can help you get that changed, says Ferrer, so you can sell the home without having to involve your ex.
If you’re buying a home, you may find that there’s a problem with the title that you need worked out before you can purchase. For example, Ferrer said, perhaps the home was inherited, but not all the siblings who inherited it signed off on selling the property. A lawyer can help you negotiate and move forward with the purchase.
If You’re Selling Your Home Yourself
If you’re doing a For Sale By Owner, make sure you get a lawyer to help you draft the proper documents for the sale. A lawyer’s help is absolutely necessary in this situation to make sure the terms of the deal are legal and fair.
If You’re Buying or Selling with a Contract for Deed
First, says Ferrer, a good real estate attorney would caution clients against doing a contract for deed to sell a property. A contract for deed is basically a rent-to-own situation with real estate, but Ferrer says they are “highly disfavored by the courts,” which could mean you end up with a legal mess on your hands. But if you do choose to enter into a contract for deed, you absolutely need a lawyer, Ferrer says.
“If you’re adamant about doing it, you have to understand that strict compliance is required. If it’s not made in accordance for Texas law, the seller could be on the hook for three times the amount of damages and $200 a day. If you’re the purchaser, you need to know you could potentially lose rights to purchase this house if they miss a payment within the contract,” says Ferrer.
If You’re Buying a Foreclosed Property
A foreclosed property could be attractive if you’re looking to save money and use the home as an investment, but buying a foreclosed home can be tricky. Before you start looking at properties, get a lawyer’s help, says Ferrer.
“As an attorney, I can walk them through the process of helping them identify the property they want. With a foreclosure, you can generally only look at the outside. People start with a long list of prospective properties and then narrow it down to a few homes they want to bid on before getting a title company involved,” says Ferrer.
If You’re a Member, Play It Safe and Get a Lawyer
Remember that Texas Legal members have residential real estate transactions included in their legal protection plans, as well as several covered consultations with an attorney each year, so there’s really no reason not to get a lawyer if you would like to. To find a real estate attorney in your area, use our online attorney finder or call our member services line at 1-800-252-9346.