Buying a home is one of the biggest purchases most people will ever make. It can also be one of the most confusing, because there are so many laws and procedures involved. An attorney is required to be present at a real estate closing in only a few states. However, it can be beneficial to have an attorney with experience in real estate present at your closing, even if your state does not require it.
Laws regarding real estate closings differ from state to state. In some states, a lawyer is required to handle some parts of the transaction; in others, it is not required. For example, in New York, only an attorney can oversee a closing. In Nevada, title insurance companies are responsible for the settlement. In California and Nevada, escrow companies handle closings. However, even if your state does not require that you retain a lawyer, it may be in your best interest to hire someone who is familiar with the contracts and paperwork you will be required to sign.
There is a difference between a real estate attorney and a closing attorney. A closing attorney will review documents relating to the sale before the closing. He will be prepared to answer any questions you have about the documents you are going to sign. A real estate attorney, however, will be prepared to answer a wider variety of issues and will be better able to handle problems that arise during the closing process. Know what you are getting for your money.
Before you get to the closing, you will have an idea of what documents your lender wants you to sign. Your lender should have talked to you about who will sign documents and what interest rate your mortgage will carry. However, lenders often change the documents at the last minute so that you are presented with am altered document to sign at your closing. An attorney can look over the documents and make sure the conditions are reasonable.
Your lawyer may review the title search performed on the property you are buying and is skilled in negotiating title insurance matters and title problems. If there are problems with the title, they need to be resolved at the closing while everyone is present. A lawyer is in a position to give you legal advice on how to proceed when problems arise. In most states, non-attorneys are not allowed to give legal advice, which is known as unauthorized practice of law.
Other Legal Issues
Many issues can arise during a closing, and a realtor's standard form does not address unusual circumstances. As you prepare to sign the closing documents, your lawyer will be prepared to handle your individual concerns, including whether or not additions or renovations to the home were done lawfully, and what changes the buyer can legally make; what to do if an inspection finds radon, termites or lead-based paint; and any legal ramifications if the closing does not take place as scheduled. An attorney will be able to review the settlement statement and make sure all the math is correct and any prorations of taxes or HOA dues are correct.
- Real-EstateAttorney.org: Real Estate Closing Attorney
- Connecticut General Assembly: Requirement of Attorney Present at Closing
- MSN.com: What to expect at closing
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: 100 Questions & Answers About Buying a New Home
- October Research. "Attorney State Breakdown: Special Report," Pages 4-11. Accessed Oct. 23, 2020.
Lisa Weber is a freelance writer/editor and former special education teacher. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and professional writing, and a master's degree in special education. Over the last 15 years, she has written for a variety of newspapers, magazines, and on-line publications.