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Legal Matters in Real Estate

Many attorneys will nod knowingly when confronted with the fact real estate law has expanded enormously in the last 50-75 years. The combination of an expanding building code, the myriad options available in financing for new properties and the rise of real estate as an important and in some cases foundational element of investing has turned the legal side of the business into a challenging discipline.

If you are purchasing a property, whether it is a home or a building or other location for your business, there are some things about real estate law you may want to consider.

Get a Real Estate Attorney

If you are looking specifically for real estate legal advice, you will want to consult an attorney that specializes in real estate and the legal issues common to the industry. Like the intellectual property attorney whose practice focuses on patents, trademarks and copyrights, real estate attorneys focus on often arcane and obscure areas of the law not generally studied or well understood by other attorneys.

This should be any buyer’s first priority, even if their plans don’t seem complex or worthy of legal scrutiny. Real estate legal advice isn’t limited to complex transactions. Oftentimes it’s the simplest part of the deal that causes the legal dispute.

Know the Roles

Even experienced buyers will often hesitate when asked to explain the difference between a real estate agent and a real estate broker. Simply put, agents represent buyers while brokers represent sellers. From a legal standpoint, the issue of representation is a key element in any transaction, because if you retain an agent to act on your behalf in a real estate transaction, having that agent also be your attorney provides you with a variety of legal protections including a fiduciary relationship. Your agent must act in your best interests. A broker might not.

Do Your Research

Just because you hire an attorney to help you navigate a real estate deal doesn’t mean you should leave every detail to them and turn your back on the process. It’s very important you remain “in the loop,” so to speak, so you do not miss the opportunity to contribute to the negotiations or offer your evaluation of the situation to your attorney before you make a decision. When working with legal and general real estate matters, the process of “working through the deal” is far more valuable if it is the result of a collaboration rather than one or the other person guessing where the consensus may lie.

Record Keeping and Photography

From a legal standpoint, there is nothing more valuable than reliable records. Everything you decide or discuss, including dollar amounts, dates, times and locations should be recorded and filed in chronological order. Second, you should photograph everything you possibly can. You should pay special attention to paperwork, business cards and properties. Digital cameras have virtually limitless capacity for photos. Use it. If your deal is called into question three years later, chances are you’ll be the one waving a sheaf of papers in the air while your opponent can’t.

Legal matters can often be confusing. But with the right planning and knowledge, an attorney can help you make a better deal and buy a better property.

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