When purchasing a home, it’s a good idea to engage the services of a real estate attorney. An attorney will see to it that your rights are protected and will process all necessary legal documents for your purchase. These tips will help you choose the right attorney to steer you through your transaction.
Start your hunt for a good real estate attorney about the same time you seriously begin your search for a new home. You want plenty of time to find a good attorney — you don’t want to end up picking one at the last moment without doing any research.
Seek others’ advice
Talk to friends, colleagues and family who’ve recently purchased a home and ask them if they would recommend the real estate attorney they used. You could also seek the names of reputable attorneys from your real estate agent — just be sure to get an attorney who’s independent of that agent. Ask about the fees charged by the attorney and how well the attorney helped them to navigate the home-purchase process.
Look for experience
You want to find a “residential attorney” (an attorney who specializes in home sales) who regularly handles real estate transactions, not one who’s handled one only a handful of times. Check online with your province’s bar association to see if they have a lawyer referral service. The Canadian Bar Association’s referral service can be found here http://www.cba.org/cba/info/faq/referral.aspx
- Go online Once you have the names of a few attorneys, check to see if they have websites. There, you can find out more about their backgrounds, credentials, specialties, business style, contact information and whether they have any local offices. (You may need to meet several times with your attorney throughout the transaction — this would make having a local attorney preferable.)
Select a few attorneys to interview on the phone or, ideally, in person. (Check first whether you’ll be charged for the interview.) Ask them about their background and years of experience, how many closings they typically perform during a month or a year, what services they will provide, and whether they can give you the names of some of their clients as references. Ask up front what their fees will be and how you will be charged. (E.g., some lawyers bill hourly, while others set a flat fee.)
Also ask whether they see any conflicts of interest — you don’t want an attorney, for example, who’s associated with the local home builder from whom you’re purchasing a house, or one who regularly does business with the seller’s real estate agent.
Do some reading
Search online for articles written by or about the attorney(s) you’re thinking of hiring. Do they put him or her in a good light? The same goes for advertisements he or she has run, either in the newspaper, online or in the Yellow Pages. Are the ads helpful and tasteful? Also ask for brochures or promotional materials about the attorney or his or her firm to get a sense of the work he or she does and his or her business style.
Get it in writing
Once you select an attorney, read the “engagement letter” or “retainer agreement” — in which the attorney spells out what services he or she will provide and at what fee — in full, and make sure that you fully understand it and its terms.