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What to Look for in a Real Estate Lawyer (Hint: It is absolutely not the lawyer you used for that “other” thing.)

Aug 31, 2018


Buying or selling a house isn’t as simple as most people think.

It’s kind of like defending yourself in court – sure, you can choose to go it alone, but the small print is blinding and the sheer thickness of the contracts needed is enough to send you running for the hills.
Besides, Abe Lincoln (who was a lawyer, by the way), put it this way; “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

Even lawyers hire lawyers.
Even real estate agents hire real estate agents.
(my own experience with that here.)

But even hiring a lawyer is far more involved than just picking one at random from a Google search for local lawyers. Even inside the specialty of real estate law, there are specialties that each have their own legal nuances not every real estate lawyer will know about.

Commercial real estate
Condominium real estate
Real estate as part of a deceased persons estate
New construction
Single family
And laws and regulations also vary from province to province, and country to country.


No one lawyer will know the small print, details, and legal nuances (and obligations) of every one of those separate categories, so choose one based not on price, not on your best friend’s referral, and not on that lawyer’s connection to your church or family, but based on your transaction.  If you’re buying or selling a condominium, seek a lawyer who specializes in condo law.

Here’s the other thing most people don’t know. Using your corporate or divorce attorney or the lawyer that helped you with an estate, setting up a business or ANY OTHER legal matter at ALL is NOT necessarily the one to hire. They may be highly skilled and expertly educated in their particular field of practice but that doesn’t translate over to real estate. It really doesn’t, folks. Trust me. Hiring your divorce attorney to manage the sale of your house might be like hiring your real estate agent to set up your estate sale. After all, they know how to market and sell houses, and selling is selling, right? No. Please no.

When looking for a lawyer, don’t be afraid to check around, interview multiple lawyers, and ask about their expertise in your kind of real estate transaction. If they say anything other than that they do those often, keep on looking. Don’t let them learn and experiment at the expense of your own consequences.

Case in point

A client of mine, against my advice, moved forward with using his business lawyer to oversee the legalities of his house purchase. “Don’t do it,” I said, “You’re going to want someone who knows real estate law.” But his loyalty ran deep (which isn’t always a good thing, as he soon found out.)

I shared the story here so I won’t go over the whole thing, but here’s the gist: That client ended up calling me in a panic about what his lawyer DIDN’T do. It was the Friday of the first long weekend of the year, with possession coming up in just a few days. It was then he found out the lawyer had not arranged the survey as his client had requested. This was a critical error, because the seller had explicitly refused to promise there were no encroachments or zoning issues and even if the seller had, the lawyer ought to have known the promise would not have survived after possession. 

“You’ll definitely want a survey,” I had told him, “Otherwise you’ll be S. O. L. if there are issues down the road.” I recommended he require a survey through the lawyer.

Now, unless I could wave a magic wand and fix the lawyer’s mistake, my client was going to be Sol. I was able to and had a surveyor do one that day (at triple his fee) and it was good it happened as there WAS an encroachment, in fact it was a non-compliance that needed to be remedied. 


Bottom line: Hire according to area of expertise.
Not loyalty.
Not relationship.
Only expertise.

Bonus Tip: (this one’s for free) Once you have hired your various professionals (mortgage broker, real estate agent, lawyer, home inspector…) make sure they’re willing to communicate with each other and work together on your behalf. Think of it as a team, and then treat them like one.

Buying and selling is stressful enough. Give yourself some peace of mind by letting your team work together, each with their own expert eye on a different piece of your transaction, keeping you well protected by highly skilled professionals.

Category: Real Estate Issues

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