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Do I Need An Attorney When Buying or Selling a Home?

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
March 9, 2020

In this article, we’ll discuss what a real estate attorney does for the buyers and sellers, whether a real estate attorney is required in Illinois, and some specific reasons why having a real estate attorney in Illinois will save you a lot of potential headaches.

Buying or selling a home can be an exciting and infuriating process. All the negotiations, contracts, inspections, and legal hurdles can leave a person emotionally exhausted. The final cut taken from the sale of the house can feel like adding insult to injury, and maybe you’re thinking you want to save a few bucks and handle everything yourself. Why not? It’s 2020 and you can find a DIY guide for anything on the internet. Before making what might be a terrible decision read this article on why having a real estate attorney is important when buying or selling a home in Illinois.

What Does a Real Estate Attorney Do?

Before, During and After the Real Estate Closing?

For both the seller and the buyer the real estate attorney acts as a type of fact-checker during the contract review process and overseeing any modifications after an offer has been accepted. Once the buyers and sellers have agreed to a price and signed the initial real estate contract, the lawyer will review the contract. Typically, the buyer’s lawyer will draft a modification letter that lists specifics changes, credits, repairs, etc, that must be agreed on during the attorney review process. Most of the items in the modification letter deal with issues found in the inspection, but your attorney can also suggest other things you might want to include in the modification letter, such as asking for previous claims, protections against legal repercussions beyond the loss of earnest money, etc.

The seller’s attorney will review the modification letter and work with the seller on accepting, denying, or modifying the request from the buyers. The seller’s attorney can also help clear up any confusing legal jargon present in the modification letter from the buyer’s attorney. Throughout the negotiation process and the attorney review period, the real estate lawyer acts as a guide to keep the buyers and sellers from getting bogged down in mountains of paperwork, research, and potentially false information. The attorney can also handle working with the title company and getting an up-to-date survey of your property so issues don’t suddenly arise at or after the closing.

Once your funds enter escrow, the escrow officer will send a number of documents that must be filled out and signed. Even though your real estate agent has seen hundreds or thousands of these escrow documents, your real estate attorney will review the paperwork and catch any abnormalities, thereby avoiding you legal trouble.

Does Illinois or Iowa Law Require a Real Estate Attorney?

Illinois and Iowa are not one of the 21 states and the District of Columbia that require a real estate attorney by law, but if the other party has an attorney on their side it’s best you have one as well.

Situations Where a Real Estate Attorney is Helpful

Perhaps you’re still thinking that you’ve got this real estate transaction thing covered on your own. Even if you’re looking at a vanilla residential transaction, here are some situations where a real estate attorney will save you time and money.

For sellers:

  1. You’re selling a property that is in poor shape, possibly uninhabitable
  2. You’re the representative or heir of an estate and the owner has died
  3. You already know issues will arise with the property based on your time living there
  4. You’re selling the house to your kids or other family members
  5. You’re selling the house with a difficult business partner or due to a divorce
  6. The property you’re selling has tenants
  7. Judgments or liens against the proper currently exist
  8. You are concerned about the tax consequences associated with the sale

For Buyers:

  1. You don’t live in the town, state or country in which you’re buying
  2. You’re buying a property that is in some form of distress or has structural issues
  3. You’re buying a property that is part of a larger estate sale or business transaction
  4. A commercial property purchase
  5. You’re buying a short-sale or foreclosed property
  6. You’re buying a historic property and plan to change the exterior

What Am I Risking By Not Using a Real Estate Attorney?

The immediate answer is time and possibly money. Unless you are a seasoned home seller or buyer with intricate knowledge of the process and the legal issues that can arise, trying to manage everything that goes into buying a house by yourself or even with the help of a real estate agent can be extremely time-consuming. If anything is missed upfront, dealing with the problem down the line, especially if it comes down to mediation or even litigation, will likely cost you significantly more than what it would have to hire a lawyer. Furthermore, without a lawyer, you may increase the chance of lawsuits down the line. Save your sanity, time and money, by hiring a lawyer and being completely transparent during the home selling and buying process.

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