You wouldn’t ask a dentist to perform your colonoscopy.
(At least I hope not)
Even if the dentist was your best friend.
Or offered to do it for free.
Because it’s not their area of expertise.
Their lack of knowledge could cause you some serious problems.
Instinctively, we know this.
But we have a blind spot about it when it comes to lawyers.
“Law is law” people seem to think. “How complicated could it be?”
They might not ask their tax lawyer to handle their criminal case, but people do routinely hand their real estate transactions to their family or business lawyer.
Check out some the kinds of law practices a lawyer can work in:
Personal injury law
Property and real estate law
That’s thirteen, each of which is its own convoluted web of pitfalls, obscure rules, loopholes, and red tape. And we’re just scratching the surface.
Starting to get the picture?
Goal one in hiring a lawyer for your real estate transaction (and you’ll need one whether you go DIY or through an agent), is to hire someone who actually practices real estate law.
Case Study: The Man Whose Lawyer Didn’t Know Better
One man wanted to buy a house. Despite my advice to contact the real estate lawyers I recommended, he insisted on using his corporate lawyer.
“With all due respect, a corporate lawyer will not have expertise in real estate law.” I said.
Still, he went forward with his plan.
During the process, my spidey senses tingled and I recommended that he get a survey to ensure the property was free of any encroachments. I had a feeling about that shed in the back yard…
The offer on the house came back that the buyer’s offer was approved, but that the home was sold as-is with the seller not promising the home to be free of, or from any encroachments making me strongly suggest obtaining a survey to ensure no problem in this respect.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“Basically, it says any consequences that arise out of that would rest on your shoulders, not the sellers. If there’s a problem or a building has to be removed or something, it will be your cost, not theirs.” I said hence the need for a survey to be done before taking possession.
The offer was sent to the lawyer as instructed and the sale was a go.
Days before possession, I received a desperate phone call from that buyer. “Jeff! The lawyer didn’t order a survey! Can you get someone right away?!”
It was Friday of the first long weekend of the year. I rolled my eyes and resisted the urge to say, “I TOLD you so!!!” Instead, to try to do damage control, I set to work phoning every surveyor I’d ever heard of, finally hitting on one who could make it that weekend.
“My wife is going to be upset I’m taking extra work on the long weekend. I’ll have to charge this guy triple my fee.” He said.
“He’ll be glad to pay it just to have you come out right away.” I said.
And he was glad to pay it. Luckily, with the survey done and an encroachment discovered (I knew it!), we were able to save him the grief that would have resulted had that gone through unnoticed.
The lawyer may have been a heck of a corporate lawyer, but didn’t know real estate.
Even in real estate law though, there are specialties – commercial law and residential law are quite different. And condomium's law, well, That’s another story navigating the Mazel Ike legislation.... Especially since the legislative changes in 2015. With condos, you’re not just buying a home, you’re buying into a corporation. You’ll definitely want a learned lawyer for that so you know you’re protected.
A Few More Critical Tips:
Want that list of real estate lawyers I recommend? Check it out here.