When you’re buying a home, the team that you surround yourself with can make or break your overall experience. A critical member of that team is going to be your real estate closing attorney.
Think of your closing attorney as a project manager. The project is closing on a house and the project deadline is the closing date. He or she needs to keep things on track, so you can close on time.
Your closing attorney has a lot of responsibilities:
- reviewing and advising you on the Contract of Sale;
- negotiating on your behalf during the attorney review and inspections phases;
- helping you navigate the legal aspects of your mortgage process;
- reviewing title and survey with you to ensure there are no title defects or boundary line issues;
- walking you through your closing disclosure statement, so you understand all the costs involved;
- overseeing your closing where you will sign legal documents and finally get your keys; and
- addressing your questions and concerns, and oftentimes, quelling your anxiety, along the way.
Working with the right real estate closing attorney increases efficiency and relieves stress. So, what should you be looking for in an attorney, exactly? Here are 5 things for you to consider:
1. Shop Around
Your realtor will likely give you a “short list” of attorneys you could call, and friends and family may provide some referrals, as well. You should call several attorneys to get a sense of their practice, their personality, and their fees before making your decision. Put in the time to visit their websites and read their online reviews (with a grain of salt, of course) like you would when shopping for any other product or service to invest in.
2. Avoid the Mixed Bag
Select an attorney that practices exclusively in real estate, if possible. Or, choose one that has a practice heavily focused on residential real estate closings. That attorney is likely to be the most up to speed on changes and nuances in this area of the law. He or she will also have established a more efficient process for handling real estate closings. Plus, if real estate transactions are the bread and butter of their practice, they will be more likely to give your deal the time and attention it deserves.
Attorneys with a mixed legal practice, on the other hand, may give your real estate deal to their legal secretary or paralegal to handle, or simply put it at the bottom of a growing stack of manila folders, while they turn their attention to more profitable matters which can be billed by the hour, like trial work or general corporate legal work.
3. Don’t Go Bargain Hunting
Real estate closing attorneys in New Jersey charge a flat rate fee to represent you from contract review to closing, but that doesn’t mean you should select the cheapest one you can find. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” has a lot of truth to it.
There is a wide range of attorneys out there and while you should not go with the most expensive attorney just because they charge a premium, you should also not specifically go hunting for a “good deal” and choose the attorney whose fee is the lowest solely on that basis. Don’t be afraid to spend a little more than anticipated for this important member of your team, if it feels like the right fit to you.
4. Trust Your Instincts
If you call an attorney who everyone loves and who has great reviews, and he or she just rubs you the wrong way, go with your gut. You’re going to be communicating with this person over the course of several weeks or months and working together on one of the most important, most costly (and potentially most stressful) transactions of your life.
So, choose someone that is not only competent and knowledgeable, but also amicable. You’re not looking for a new bestie, but finding a personality that meshes well with your own will pay dividends over the course of the relationship.
5. Interview for a Project Manager
Remember you are trying to choose an attorney who you feel is going to be the best “project manager” for your important transaction. What traits should this person have? Accessibility, organization, attention to detail and solid communication skills are key.
If you can’t reach him or her for an initial consult or the office seems hectic, and the office staff is inundated and frazzled or rude, well, that’s a red flag that this attorney might be over-extended as it is. Will he or she be available when you need them down the road?
The attorney you choose should also be organized and detailed. He or she will be handling many real estate matters all moving along varying timelines with different potential issues and roadblocks to foresee, prevent and possibly resolve. So, he or she has to give you a sense that they are focused and on top of things.
Lastly, your attorney should be a good communicator. The ability to explain things to you in an articulate and understandable way and the ability to be proactive and keep lines of communication open with your entire team as well as the other side are going to be critical in meeting your project goals and deadline.