The How’s, Why’s and When’s of Hiring a Real Estate Lawyer

By: Beverly Fortune
Sold Home For Sale Real Estate Sign In Front Of Beautiful New House.

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Chances are you would not show up at court to plea a case, go through a divorce or write a will without a lawyer. You don’t have to hire a lawyer, after all, but just because you don’t have to do something doesn’t mean that’s the right path to follow—in any of those examples, as well as when buying or selling real estate.

Especially in that last case, which is not only likely to be a significant monetary transaction but also one that can be fraught with emotion and unforeseeable events and situations that require a true expert.

“New York does not require retaining an attorney, and quite honestly many upstate transactions are done without an attorney,” says Joseph Milizio, Managing Partner at Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP. “However, downstate people always use them due to the fact that the process downstate is that much more complicated than many other jurisdictions.

Downstate includes Nassau and Suffolk County, of course. “Although it is not required, it is highly recommended that anyone who is either purchasing or selling a parcel of property be represented by qualified council,” says Milizio, who offers insights on the when, how, what and why of hiring a real estate attorney.

Joseph G. Milizio

Joseph G. MilizioCourtesy Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP

When is the best time to hire a real estate lawyer?
The best time is when you’re thinking of selling your home. The reason for that is we can review the status of the property with our potential clients to determine if there are any issues that might need to be rectified before the property is put on the market…. Some of these issues might be a problem with a certificate of occupancy or violation or perhaps out of possession of a lot.

What type of negotiations do you typically provide?
In New York, a home inspection is done before a contract is signed, so often what happens is if there are any issues that are revealed during the home inspection, either the real estate agent or the attorney will negotiate those terms, depending on how far along the transaction has gone.

We can negotiate the contract of sale, the terms and provisions, we review the mortgage commitment on behalf of the purchaser, we order title searches and review them to ensure there is good title and to make sure there are no problems such as violations or fines that are outstanding, or liens on the property.

What kind of questions should one ask before hiring a real estate lawyer?
I would first ask what their current experience is with real estate transactions. And when I say current, the real estate world changes so rapidly that you want to make sure the law firm [you are considering] handles those transactions on a consistent basis, and that they are all professionals who will be able to properly service the client.

The question should be, who will be handling my transaction, and if it’s a paralegal only, the potential client should beware, and if it’s a single attorney with no backup, that should also be of concern.

Does a real estate lawyer have anything to do with a Homeowners Association (HOA)?
When a client is purchasing a property which is part of an HOA, or a co-operative or condominium, we will review all of the documents and the prospectus so that the client understands the obligations that go along with that kind of purchase.

What are some issues most people don’t know that a real estate lawyer can or will handle?
In addition to purchases and sales, we also represent people who are refinancing their home or taking a reverse mortgage. Not every firm just handles purchases and sales, [for example] we also handle issues between property owners who can’t agree on a sales price. You should also have an attorney who understands trust and estate issues.