Buying March 13, 2012

Real Estate Attorneys: Choose Your Lawyer with Care

Upon occasion, an attorney will “kill” a deal. It is part of the business, and I have seen my own client’s attorneys pull the plug on a transaction when things did not look like they were going in the best interests of our client. The attorney’s job, after all, is to handle the contract portion of the transaction, and as they say, the devil is in the details.  New York is unique in that it is one of the few places where lawyers are so integral to real estate. In many other states, they are not involved. In Westchester and the surrounding metropolitan area, the contract phase can last a week or more as the lawyers iron out details and verbiage. Two things are done at contract: the principals sign, and the buyer makes their first down payment, or good faith deposit. In our area, a 10% deposit is quite common. I have seen more. I have seen less.

No sooner did I pen this post on Patch about the importance of having a good real estate attorney, I spoke to a prospective buyer on one of my own listings who had recently signed the contract to purchase the home. He informed me that his attorney- with an office 2 counties away- advised him to not bother with the 10% deposit; 1% would do.


His lawyer did not clear this with our lawyer. No explanation was given.

And with that little maneuver, this lawyer put her client’s purchase in jeopardy.

We see this all too often. Real estate sales is not litigation. There shouldn’t be much arguing. But when a lawyer unilaterally changes terms on a contract by ego, fiat, or simple stupidity, weeks of work on both sides can go down the drain quickly. The house goes back on the market, and the buyer has to hit the streets again seeking another property. Will we save this deal? Perhaps, but there is a backup offer, and if the current buyer does not get their act together, they’ll lose the place for good, as the next buyer probably won’t make the same mistake.

The takeaway here is simple. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. You can have the greatest agent in the world, a fantastic lender, and a world beating home inspector, but if your attorney doesn’t grasp basic protocol or understand local practices, you are not getting the advocacy you are paying for. We advise clients to look for three things in their attorney: specialization in real estate, a strong understanding of local practices, and a commitment to communication.