For most of the country the actual sales contract or offer is a formdocument approved by the National Association of REALTORS® that contains all required legal language, so attorneys are not consulted until after the document is signed. In most states there are laws that allow an attorney a short period of time (an average of three to five days) to review the sales contract or offer made by the buyer and accepted by the seller. A real estate attorney begins looking out for the well-being of his or her client with the first review of this document. At that stage, the attorney makes sure the contract reflects the intentions of his or her client.
The next step for the attorney may be to order the home inspection that the buyer has made contingent in the sales contract. Once the inspection report is complete, the attorney will review the report and alert the buyer to any potential issues with the structure of the house. The attorney may then assist the buyer in negotiating a reduction in price, a cash settlement, or a cancellation of the deal due to the inspection results.
The attorney will advise his or her client as to options for holding the title to the property. Depending on local custom, the attorney will order a title search from a title insurance company and a professional survey. The title search verifies that the sellers have a clear title to the home. The attorney reviews this search and alerts both buyer and seller of any potential problems. For example, the problem may be a lien on the home by a former contractor that was not paid. Knowledge of this issue at an early date allows the seller to resolve the debt before closing. The title insurance company also issues an insurance policy on the title guaranteeing that the buyer has a clear title or the insurance company pays. In many parts of the country the title insurance company also provides a closing agent and an office where the closing can take place. The survey is a certified drawing of the land, how the house and other structures sit on the land, including actual measurements.
As the closing gets closer, the real estate attorney will monitor the progress and review documents. The attorney will assist the closing agent in drafting the list of closing costs and, once that draft is completed, review the calculations. When it comes time for the closing, the real estate attorney stands with the buyer. The attorney reviews each document and lets the buyer know what he or she is signing. If problems come up in the closing, the real estate attorney may be able to resolve the problems on the spot. An experienced real estate attorney advocates for the client and protects the client from being taken advantage of in this deal.