Do I Need an Attorney If I Want To Buy or Sell My Home in Pennsylvania?
The simple answer is - no - you do not need an attorney to buy or sell a home in Pennsylvania. There is no legal requirement that an attorney be involved in any stage of the transaction. However, the proper question to be asked is if it would be advisable for you to be represented by an attorney. The purchase of a home is probably one of the largest purchases you will make during your life. In fact, the only items you may purchase that probably will be more expensive than your home are your next home - and the home after that. Similarly, the sale of your home is one of the largest, if not the largest, sale you will ever make during your life. It makes good sense to have knowledgeable people advising you about the different aspects of the transaction.
What might an attorney do for you in a real estate transaction? You might ask your attorney to do one or more or all of the following things.
Reviews the proposed contract prepared by someone else or prepare a contract for you to make certain that you are properly protected by its terms. Standard forms are often so neutral that they do not properly protect either side or perhaps they only protect the other side. Standard forms often are not designed to deal with the unique circumstances of the property in question or your particular situation. Your attorney will attempt to make the contract protect you in light of your own circumstances.
Negotiate the terms of the contract for you with a full understanding of the legal consequences to you of any change proposed by the other side or agreed to by you.
Reviews other important legal documents for you to make certain you are protected. These might include a mortgage commitment, title report, prior deed restrictions and other documents that many people do not understand. Your attorney can explain all of them to you.
Advise you of your legal rights and obligations - particularly if a problem or dispute arises. You will know if the other side is trying to take unfair advantage of you, if you have a legal "loophole" available to you, if you are being unreasonable and what risks you may be facing if you pursue a particular course of conduct. You will be better able to weigh your options because you will be fully informed of the legal (and often practical) consequences of your decisions.
Explain each step of the transaction to you with only your interests in mind. You will know why each step is being taken, whether it is in your best interest to take that step and whether there might be other alternatives that are better for you.
Attend closing or settlement with you, explain everything happening there, review all the documents before you sign them and make certain that your interests are protected.
An attorney is not a substitute for other professionals. What other advisors and professionals should be involved in your transaction? A real estate agent or broker can assist you in finding the home right for you if you are buying or can help you properly price your home and find a qualified buyer if you are selling. Your accountant can help you decide how much you can afford to spend for a home and can determine the tax effects of a purchase or sale on your unique circumstances. A home inspector can advise you whether the home you have selected has any hidden defects or potential problems. A mortgage broker or processor can assist you in securing the financing you need to complete the transaction. An insurance agent can make certain that you have the proper coverage to protect you and to satisfy the lender. A title company can search the title to the property and make certain that you will receive good title, free and clear of any liens.
Each of these professionals has his or her own unique role to play in the transaction and each is important. However, they have not been trained to look for potential legal problems or to protect you if legal problems arise or defend you if the other party makes a claim against you.
One way to view the question whether to retain an attorney is to consider the attorney like an insurance policy. If the broker prepares the contract for you, and everything goes smoothly - perhaps you did not need an attorney and you saved some money by not using one. However, if problems arise during the course of the transaction or at closing - the attorney is there to advise, assist and protect you - like an insurance policy when you need to make a claim. You hope you did not really need the attorney, but you are comforted knowing he or she is there to protect you if a problem arises or perhaps, to prevent the problem from arising in the first place. In addition, even if things seemed to go smoothly, you may never realize something occurred to your detriment because no one else was looking for legal problems for you.
Do you need an attorney - no.
Should you have one - you decide.
Copyright 2011 - Marc H. Jaffe and Fromhold Jaffe & Adams
Note: This memorandum does not constitute legal advice. We suggest that you consult with an attorney before deciding to take any action or refrain from taking any action in reliance on the information contained here.