Real Estate and Housing Law

Do I need an attorney if I have a realtor?
Realtors® have good general knowledge about many issues involved in the purchase of property, but they don’t have the depth of legal knowledge concerning such critical issues as contract obligations and interpretation, title, mortgage loan obligations and the many other legal issues that can trip up buyers. In addition, Realtors® who aren’t lawyers are prohibited by law from advising on legal issues. A buyer with a real estate attorney representing them before and during the purchase has a trained advocate looking out for their best interests who can help property purchases go off without a hitch.
At what point do I involve an attorney in the process of buying real estate?
Ideally, because a Realtor® will present you with a contract to sign, to best position yourself in the transaction, you would contact an attorney before you contact a Realtor®. Short of this, you should definitely have a real estate attorney advising you before you sign anything! Once you sign a contract, you are obligated under its terms. If the contract is deficient or insufficient, once the other party signs, you’re stuck with it. Make sure an attorney prepares the contract or assists in its drafting and reviews it before you sign it. At the very least, if you didn’t have time to engage a lawyer, make sure the contract states that it is contingent on buyer’s attorney review and approval. Realtors® may by law fill in blanks in form contracts but they cannot draft contract language.
Can any attorney help me with purchasing a house or buying a property?
It’s best to make sure the attorney you hire is experienced and knowledgeable in the specific area of residential or commercial real estate. Residential and commercial real estate are specialized areas of legal knowledge and skill. In addition to law school training, years of legal experience, and continuing legal education requirements, Ohio attorneys can achieve a certification of Specialist in Real Property Law through the Ohio State Supreme Court and the Ohio State Bar Association. Attorneys who have achieved the real property law specialist certification must, among other things, spend a significant annual portion of their practice on real estate issues; must pass a rigorous real property law test; and are required to fulfill increased continuing legal education requirements. Certification is your assurance that the lawyer you are hiring is competent to represent you in real estate matters.
How much detail do I need to disclose about my older home's condition if I want to sell it?
First, for any house built before 1978, you’ll have to provide a Lead Paint disclosure form. Secondly, depending on your state, you may need to disclose any major physical defects in the home that may seriously affect property value, like a roof that leaks every time it rains or a basement wall that is buckling. Don’t despair that you’ll never sell your home if you disclose every issue; the fact is you need to disclose major issues about which you should be reasonably aware. You don’t have to list every crack in the plaster, nor every floor in the house that is no longer perfectly level. Buyers seeking an older home usually expect some “older home issues” and they may approach property disclosures as negotiating points to reduce the selling price. If you are especially concerned about a property issue before you put the house on the market, you can hire a general contractor to inspect the issue and advise you about possible costs to repair it. Even if you don’t decide to have a repair completed yourself, you’ll have a good sense of the potential repair cost before your buyer tries to negotiate the selling price down. Each state has different requirements about necessary disclosure of property defects and a real estate attorney can advise you about necessary inclusions.
How does Ohio’s new anti-predatory lending law protect consumers?
Effective January 1, 2007, Ohio’s new Anti-Predatory Lending Law, went into effect. This law requires that lenders, title insurance companies and others involved in residential real estate lending comply with more stringent consumer protection and lending laws in addition to requiring criminal background checks and stricter licensing and education for lenders, brokers, appraisers, title agents, and loan officers. The law will allow the attorney general to intervene on behalf of homeowners and allow consumers to sue over fraudulent loan transactions. Among other terms, the new law prohibits: offering mortgages or refinancing loans that ignore a consumer’s ability to repay them; prepayment penalties on refinance loans less than $75,000; false appraisals that inflate a home’s value and encourage borrowers into bigger loans; and loans arranged by taking advantage of a borrower’s physical or mental disabilities. Lenders must now make reasonable efforts to seek loans that are advantageous to the borrower, and provide increased disclosures of monthly payments, interest, taxes, insurance, and fees. Loans that exceed particular interest rate limits are subject to additional restrictions. Contact your attorney general’s office or federal trade commission if you think you or a loved one have been a victim of predatory lending. See the Legal Tool Kit, Real Estate section, and “Where to Read More” for links.
How do I know if the house or condiminium I’m considering is appropriately priced?
You could do research on the recent selling prices of similar property surrounding the house or condiminium you’re considering. County auditors often provide online search, by address, of recent selling prices. Realty websites may also provide similar searches. You should also consider factors like special features the home may have, community factors like the health of local school systems, and new development near the property that may affect it’s future value. Factors such as necessary major or minor repairs in the home should be considered. The length of time that a home has been on the market may also give you some indication that the asking price is higher than most buyers are finding appropriate. If you believe the home is right for you but priced too highly, hiring a real estate attorney or realtor to address your concerns may allow you to more effectively negotiate a better deal.