I'm trying to buy a house in Florida. I'm a 1st time home buyer and am using a mortgage broker and a transaction broker, the seller is also using a agent from the same real estate office. I'm using a USDA loan, fixed 30 yr rate. I've heard of horror stories at closing. Do I need a lawyer at closing or just to look over the contracts.
As a Florida licensed real estate attorney, let me first answer your question succinctly - No, you do not NEED a real estate attorney when buying a house in Florida.
IF you happen to be purchasing a defect-free property and you are working with a cooperative seller, a knowledgeable real estate agent, a thorough inspector, a diligent loan officer/mortgage broker and a competent closing agent, chances are that your transaction will go relatively smoothly. Let me briefly explain what services a real estate attorney should perform on your behalf so you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you think it would be beneficial to engage counsel to assist you with your purchase. From start (finding the home you wish to purchase) to finish (closing), a Florida real estate attorney should:
1) Assist in drafting your offer - There are two basic promulgated residential purchase and sale agreements that are widely used in Florida (although many local Realtors' associations prefer their own versions). Assuming you are working with an agent, he/she typically drafts the initial offer then subsequently provides it to an attorney (if applicable) for review and modification. As you can imagine, like attorneys, not all agents are created equal. Even when working with extremely experienced agents, I generally end up revising the initial draft purchase agreement after consulting with my clients. Further, since the "form" agreements are purposefully equitable, it's good to have an attorney who knows which provisions should be revised to your advantage.
2) Negotiate the counter-offer proffered by the seller/seller's counsel - Some proposed revisions are customary and acceptable, others are not. As a first-time home buyer, you won't know what terms are reasonable and little ability to discern what terms might create traps for the unwary.
3) Assist with due diligence - While your agent should be able to recommend surveyors and inspectors, keep in mind that inasmuch as an agent's compensation is contingent upon having the transaction close, they aren't always completely objective with respect to due diligence. I've actually had agents tell me on numerous occasions that they prefer working with companies with reputations for performing cursory, non-detailed inspections in order to avoid "scaring away" their buyers. Depending on the terms of your purchase agreement, you will have several options after receiving your inspection report (e.g. terminating the contract, obligating the seller to make certain repairs, or providing you a repair credit at closing). A real estate attorney can assist you in assessing your options and negotiating a resolution that is in your best interests. Similarly, unless you have experience in analyzing surveys, it's unlikely that you are capable of recognizing any problems depicted thereon. A good real estate attorney should also procure and review permit and municipal lien reports to ensure you aren't unknowingly subjecting yourself to potential liability subsequent to closing. And lastly, while the seller will be obligated to convey you clear and marketable title, it's important to understand the impact of title exceptions to your owner's title insurance policy. A real estate attorney can evaluate the title exceptions set forth in your title commitment and work toward removing as many as possible.
4) Ensure a smooth closing - A real estate attorney will review your closing and loan documents to ensure that they accurately reflect the terms of your agreement. It sounds like your loan documents should be standard boilerplate, so it's unlikely that they will require negotiation. However, closing documents vary greatly, so it's important to review them carefully, and negotiate any terms and/or instruments that are unreasonable or inaccurate.
I hope you find the foregoing beneficial. Whether or not you ultimately elect to engage counsel to assist you, good luck with your purchase!
Please be advised that I practice law in New Jersey. In answering you question, you should consider the cost of hiring an attorney in relation to how much you are paying for your new home (it is likely that this transaction will be one of the largest you have been involved in to date). As residential real estate is not overly complicated, an attorney should not cost too much. At the end of the day to protect your interests and make the process as smooth as possible, you should consider hiring an attorney.
My suggestion would be to hire a lawyer to review "the closing package." This is likely to take about an hour, and you should expect to pay for this time. I would then ask that the lawyer be available at the time of closing in case anything unexpected happens. Most lawyers would agree to do this without charging you to be "on call."
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