Real Estate and Housing

Do I need an attorney if I have a Realtor®?
Realtors® have good general knowledge about many issues involved in the purchase of property, but they don’t have the depth of legal knowledge concerning such critical issues as contract obligations and interpretation, title, mortgage loan obligations and the many other legal issues that can trip up buyers. In addition, Realtors® who aren’t lawyers are prohibited by law from advising on legal issues. A buyer with a real estate attorney representing them before and during the purchase has a trained advocate looking out for their best interests who can help property purchases go off without a hitch.
At what point do I involve an attorney in the process of buying real estate?
Ideally, because a Realtor® will present you with a contract to sign before they begin to represent you, you would contact an attorney before you contact a Realtor®. Short of this, you should definitely have a real estate attorney advising you before you sign anything! Once you sign a contract, you are obligated under its terms. If the contract is deficient or insufficient, once the other party signs, you’re stuck with it. Make sure an attorney prepares the contract or assists in its drafting and reviews it before you sign it. At the very least, if you didn’t have time to engage a lawyer, make sure the contract states that it is contingent on buyer’s attorney review and approval. Realtors® may by law fill in blanks in form contracts but they cannot draft contract language and cannot advise you on the legal implications of a contract.
Can any attorney help me with purchasing a house or buying a property?
It’s best to make sure the attorney you hire is experienced and knowledgeable in the specific area of residential or commercial real estate. Residential and commercial real estate are specialized areas of legal knowledge and skill. In addition to law school training, years of legal experience, and continuing legal education requirements, Florida attorneys can achieve Board Certification in Real Property Law through The Florida Bar's Board of Legal Specialization. Attorneys who have achieved the real property law board certification must, among other things, spend a significant annual portion of their practice on real estate issues; must pass a rigorous real property law test; and are required to fulfill increased continuing legal education requirements. Certification is your assurance that the lawyer you are hiring is competent to represent you in real estate matters.
How much detail do I need to disclose about my older home's condition if I want to sell it?
First, for any house built before 1978, you’ll have to provide a Lead Paint disclosure form. Secondly, depending on your state, you may need to disclose any major physical defects in the home that may seriously affect property value, like a roof that leaks every time it rains or a basement wall that is buckling. You don’t have to list every crack in the plaster, nor every floor in the house that is no longer perfectly level. Buyers seeking an older home usually expect some “older home issues” and they may approach property disclosures as negotiating points to reduce the selling price. If you are especially concerned about a property issue before you put the house on the market, you can hire a general contractor or licensed inspector to inspect the issue and advise you about possible costs to repair it. Even if you don’t decide to have a repair completed yourself, you’ll have a good sense of the potential repair cost before your buyer tries to negotiate the selling price down. Each state has different requirements about necessary disclosure of property defects and a real estate attorney can advise you about necessary inclusions.
How does Florida’s new anti-predatory lending law protect consumers?
Effective in 2002, Florida's Fair Lending Act went into effect. This law requires that those involved in residential real estate lending comply with more stringent consumer protection and lending laws. The law will allow the attorney general to intervene on behalf of homeowners and allow consumers to sue over fraudulent loan transactions such as offering mortgages or refinancing loans that ignore a consumer’s ability to repay them; restrictions on certain prepayment penalties on refinance loans less than $75,000 and limitations on the interest rate that may be charged. Contact your attorney general’s office or federal trade commission if you think you or a loved one have been a victim of predatory lending. See the Legal Tool Kit, Real Estate section, and “Where to Read More” for links.
How do I know if the house or condiminium I’m considering is appropriately priced?
You could do research on the recent selling prices of similar property surrounding the house or condiminium you’re considering. County auditors often provide online search, by address, of recent selling prices. Realty websites may also provide similar searches. You should also consider factors like special features the home may have, community factors like the health of local school systems, and new development near the property that may affect it’s future value. Factors such as necessary major or minor repairs in the home should be considered. The length of time that a home has been on the market may also give you some indication that the asking price is higher than most buyers are finding appropriate. If you believe the home is right for you but priced too highly, hiring a real estate attorney or real estate professional to address your concerns may allow you to more effectively negotiate a better deal.