When Do You Need a Lawyer at a Real Estate Closing?

When do you need a lawyer at a real estate closing? The answer, increasingly, is almost always.

Florida is among the majority of states that don’t require you to have the assistance or presence of your own lawyer at a real estate closing. This begs two questions: What is a closing in today’s real estate market, and what does it mean to be present?

Buying property? Selling your home? Or, thinking about doing either?

A closing conjures up a vision of you, your lender, and the other buyer or seller sitting at a table, exchanging certified checks. The party’s shake hands, keys are exchanged, and everyone leaves happy—especially the party with the keys to his or her new kingdom! However, if you haven’t participated in a property transaction lately—which is likely, since according to the US Census Bureau, as of 2021, the average homeownership duration has risen to roughly 10.5 years—the first thing you should know, is times have definitely changed. The paperwork is more complicated, it’s filled with more complex legal terms and jargon, and there’s more of it. There are also more parties involved. A typical closing group can now include the buyer, the seller, the escrow agent, a realtor-appointed attorney, a title company representative, the mortgage lender, and the real estate agents.

Your own real estate lawyer may not be mandatory, however, it may be wise.

Because Florida is one of the states that do not require a buyer or seller to retain a lawyer for a real estate closing, it may suggest a closing is not that big of a deal. Your broker has negotiated for you. You show up. And, you sign the paperwork. But real estate transfers have only become more complex with time. It isn’t your job to navigate this process, it isn’t your broker’s job, and you can wind up with a lot of misunderstanding. So do you need to bring your own lawyer to a closing? Here are some reasons you should seriously consider retaining a lawyer to assist you.

1. Brokers and real estate lawyers have different jobs.

You need them both for a successful deal in which you can have confidence and peace of mind going forward. Brokers help you find property that fits your needs, and help you negotiate the terms of sale. They know the market conditions, and what prices make sense. That’s their area of expertise.

Lawyers review the outcome of those negotiations as they set the terms down on paper. The writing will control your transaction, and your use and enjoyment of the property thereafter, for years to come. Lawyers are trained to evaluate the negotiated terms of your deal in light of Florida law, catching anything that might or might not be favorable to you, or the effects of which you may not fully appreciate without a chance to further investigate.

2. A real estate purchase is usually a personal landmark event.

A house is one of the most expensive purchases almost anyone will have made in their lifetime. Currently prime housing is not only harder to find, prices are higher than ever and involves serious expenditures. According to CNBC, America is short more than 5 million homes, and builders can’t make up the difference. And, of you’re in the market for your dream, luxury home, such as the retirees looking to Florida, the market is even tighter, according to Forbes, inventory took a hit, declining by 29% in 2021.

The very factors that make the housing market ultra-competitive and the resulting prices higher create the circumstances that lawyers should examine. With desirability, comes complications to be understood and discussed, such as easements granting access to the waterfront, piers, boat launches, beach access, and any city ordinances or HOA rules that affect how you can and cannot use your land that may concern both your property and your neighbor’s property.

Once the closing has taken place, these terms, if your property is impacted, apply to you and likely can’t be changed without much ado including added time, research, and expense. An attorney can make sure you understand, in layman’s terms, what your rights and practical responsibilities are before the closing takes place.

3. The process of closing on a home purchase or sale has changed.

These days, money changes hands not so much by actual hands, but by wire transfer. Signatures too are electronic. Unfortunately, along with a loss of face-to-face contact, much else also can be lost.

  • Such as, the opportunity to spend time with your own advocate—one who works only for you, as only a real estate lawyer can—to fully understand the implications of what you are about to embark upon.
  • Funding oversight relevant to you as an individual, where you are not standing alone should a snafu occur. Reportedly, increasingly, financial institutions and homebuyers are falling victim to wire transfer scams connected to real estate closings. If you have a real estate lawyer, you stand as strong as the firm, which is likely insured against fraud, and is also kept aware of current scams and is acting accordingly.
  • Tracking of all critical dates and deadlines is paramount, such as the appraisal date, scheduling and completing inspections, any conditional resolutions, and the final walk through. Most importantly, the timing of the money transfer as it relates to who has performed their end of the bargain as negotiated, and what that means for the deal being ‘final.’ Fund transfers need to be carefully monitored to make sure you don’t give up money before all conditions are complied with. That plumbing repair? The new roof? The crack in the pool deck? Were all those completed, the contractors paid, and liens cleared? All of the fixes negotiated by your broker become your responsibility to enforce at closing, if you close. It stands to reason, you will enjoy greater piece of mind, knowing that your real estate lawyer is looking after your best interests and will advise you on what to do, and when to do it.

The entirety of a closing should now consist of an in-depth examination of the negotiated deal and related documents, all contracts written and/or reviewed by your attorney, and any consequential actions taken that need to take place prior to the formal sealing of the deal, which, in today’s market, entails a significant amount of work long before the actual contract signing.

So where does this lead you? You would be wise to find an experienced advocate who makes you feel confident, where you can ask relevant questions and get real answers—a professional with whom you feel comfortable and can understand. That’s what a good real estate lawyer’s job, and privilege, is.

Contact a Florida Board-Certified Real Estate Attorney

At Rabideau Klein, David E. Klein, Esq. and Guy Rabideau, Esq. are dedicated, Palm Beach County Florida Bar Board-Certified Real Estate Attorneys with extensive experience assisting clients with multi-million-dollar property transactions. We have the expertise and knowledge you need to ensure that your property interests are protected in Palm Beach County and the Town of Palm Beach. Contact Rabideau Klein today to discuss your real estate legal needs.

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