Utah Real Estate Attorney

Real estate law is frequently changing in Utah making it more important than ever to work with a real estate attorney. As a property owner, landlord, buyer or tenant, it is important that you know your legal rights and obligations. Purchasing or selling a residential or commercial property is an important decision to make so understanding real estate law is paramount. There’s also a lot of paperwork involved in most real estate transactions. Our property attorneys at Hillyard, Anderson & Olsen are here to help you avoid the common mistakes that others experience when buying, selling or leasing real property. Let us help you during this exciting time in your life! Our real estate lawyers understand the importance of this decision and are here to ensure that you’re happy with it.

Our Real Estate Attorneys

Gary N. Anderson

Gary N. Anderson

Gary N. Anderson ShareholderPractice Areas Business Law, Civil Litigation, Estate Planning, and Real EstatePractice Areas Business Law, Civil Litigation, Estate...

Andrew Lillywhite

Andrew Lillywhite

Andrew Lillywhite AttorneyPractice Areas Business Law, Estate Planning, Land Use, Real Estate, Taxation, and Water LawPractice Areas Business Law, Estate Planning,...

Drew Parkinson

Drew Parkinson

Drew Parkinson AttorneyPractice Areas Business Law, Civil Litigation, Estate Planning, Land Use, Real EstatePractice Areas Business Law, Civil Litigation, Estate...

What Exactly Does a Real Estate Attorney Do?

A real estate attorney is a licensed property attorney who specializes in real estate law. They represent their clients in real estate transactions, such as buying, selling and leasing residential, commercial and other types of property.

The primary role of a real estate attorney is to handle the legal aspects involved in real estate deals. Some of the key duties they perform include:

  • Drafting and reviewing purchase and sales agreements, leases, deeds, title reports, property disclosures, HOA documents, escrow instructions, and other real estate documents; they do this to ensure all paperwork complies with local and state laws.
  • Conducting title searches to confirm that the seller has legal ownership and full rights to actually sell the property to you, to uncover any issues, like liens or other debts, unpaid taxes, restrictive covenants, ongoing disputes, or other claims against the property before a sale closes. This helps ensure the buyer is receiving clear title.
  • Handling the closing documents, such as closing disclosure, promissory note or mortgage note, deed, and other required paperwork as needed. They might also facilitate the closing process and transfer of funds if an escrow company is not involved.
  • Representing their clients in negotiations with the other parties in an effort to get the best price and terms, such as closing costs, repairs, contingencies, title and escrow choices, and more.
  • Handling foreclosure proceedings and litigation involving real estate disputes, property rights issues, zoning and land use, and other legal matters.

In summary, a real estate attorney handles the legal work involved in real estate transactions. Their services help buyers and sellers avoid potential issues and ensure the deal is completed in a timely, legal manner.

What’s the Difference Between a Real Estate Contract Attorney and Real Estate Agent?

Real estate attorneys and real estate agents serve different but complementary roles in real estate transactions. Here are the key differences:

  • Real estate agents work with people who are looking to sell, buy, lease or exchange real property. It’s the agents duty to represent and negotiate on behalf of their clients and handle a wide variety of tasks, such as property evaluations, marketing, and managing the transaction from opening to close of escrow.
  • Real estate attorneys specialize in real estate law and also work with people looking to buy or sell real estate. These counselors are experienced at negotiating deals, reviewing contracts, conducting title searches, and other real estate legal services. Their main responsibility is to represent their client’s best interests, look for legal pitfalls, and make sure everything is legal and in compliance.
  • Real estate agents have expertise in areas like pricing, marketing, local housing market conditions, and negotiations. Real estate attorneys have specialized knowledge of real estate law.
  • Agents must hold a valid real estate license. Attorneys must pass the bar exam and hold a license to practice law. Even after they’re licensed, both lawyers and agents continue with training and ongoing education.
  • Agents and attorneys get paid differently. Agents get paid a sales commission; an attorney usually charges an hourly fee.

So in summary, real estate agents typically oversee the entire transaction process from listing to closing, while real estate attorneys focus on handling legal details and safeguarding their clients’ interests. The agent sells the property, while the attorney ensures the legality of the transaction.

What Qualifications Should a Real Estate Attorney Have?

When searching for a real estate lawyer, you’ll want to make sure they have the proper qualifications and expertise. Here are some key credentials to look for:

  • Fully-licensed attorney – At a minimum, a real estate attorney should be licensed to practice law in your state. This means they have graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, and met all other requirements to be an attorney. You can verify an attorney’s license through your state bar association.
  • Member of the state bar association – Finding an attorney that is a member of the state bar is a big plus. Members are more likely to stay up-to-date with the latest real estate laws.
  • Specialized experience in real estate law – Look for a property attorney who specifically specializes in real estate as their primary practice area. They will have extensive knowledge from working on housing transactions regularly. Avoid attorneys who simply “dabble” in real estate occasionally.
  • Strong understanding of local and state laws – This should be a given, as you would expect a competent real estate advisor to know all the real estate and housing laws, especially in your area.

By choosing a property attorney who meets these qualifications, you can feel confident they have the necessary expertise to protect your best interests. Don’t hesitate to ask about their background and experience upfront when interviewing a potential real estate law firm.

Key Documents a Real Estate Lawyer Reviews

Real estate transactions have a lot of paperwork, such as purchase agreements, disclosures, title reports, loan docs, and more. Your attorney will review all of these documents to ensure they’re correct and legal. It’s their job to protect their client’s interests and making sure the docs are done right is a top priority. Some of the most common real estate documents and forms they handle include:

  • Purchase Agreements: This lengthy contract details the terms and conditions of the real estate deal. It includes things like purchase price, deposit, contingencies, inspections, closing date, and more. Basically, all the important details are outlined in this contract. Your lawyer will review the purchase agreement to make sure it’s legal, benefits their client, and doesn’t contain any errors or issues.
  • Disclosure Forms: Most real estate deals involve disclosure forms, and vary from state to state. These disclosure forms are designed to inform potential property buyers about various things that are likely to affect the property, such as cracked slabs, leaking roofs, lead paint, natural hazards and many more. A real estate lawyer will go over these disclosures to identify any potential problems – or possible deal breakers.
  • Title Documents: The title attorney will go over the title abstract and related documents to look for any potential problems or errors, and understand the property’s ownership history. If they find problems, they’ll work to clean them up so a clear title can be issued upon property transfer.
  • Deeds: A deed is a legal instrument used to transfer property ownership from seller to buyer, and your lawyer will make sure the deed accurately describes the property and meets all legal requirements.
  • Leases: For rental properties, the attorney reviews the lease terms to protect the interests of the landlord or tenant. They may also draft new leases or amendments, in addition to other related paperwork.
  • Closing Documents: At closing, the lawyer reviews key documents like the HUD-1 settlement statement, any necessary affidavits, and documents tied to the loan. They want to make sure everything in the transaction is going just as it should, and that any problems are handled well before close of escrow.

The Benefits of Using a Real Estate Attorney

Hiring a real estate attorney provides several advantages throughout the home buying or selling process that can end up saving you time, money, and stress down the line. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • They Explain the Legal Details – Real estate transactions involve a lot of paperwork full of complex legal terminology. An attorney can explain what everything means in plain English so you fully understand all the implications before signing. They’ll walk you through the purchase contract, loan documents, title paperwork, disclosures, and more to ensure you’re informed.
  • They Represent Your Interests – The attorney is your advocate, negotiating for terms in your favor during the transaction. They can request repairs from the seller, ensure deadlines are met, flag issues with the property ahead of time, and more. The attorney only represents you (not the seller, agent, or lender) so their priority is protecting your rights and investment.
  • They Identify Issues Upfront – – By thoroughly reviewing the title history and all documentation, your attorney can uncover problems like liens, restrictions, easements or other red flags on time so they can be addressed before closing. This prevents nasty surprises that could derail or complicate the transaction.
  • They Handle Compliance – Real estate laws and regulations vary by state and municipality. An experienced local real estate attorney will ensure all documentation and process steps comply with legal requirements so that the transaction is valid and binding.
  • They Provide Peace of Mind – Perhaps most importantly, having a trusted legal advisor looking out for your interests at every stage gives you confidence that your major investment is properly protected. You can relax knowing you have an expert guiding you through a very complex process.

Do You Need a Real Estate Attorney When Buying or Selling a House or Other Real Property?

Many people wonder if hiring a real estate attorney is necessary when buying or selling a home. Good question! The answer really depends on your specific situation.

When an Attorney is Legally Required

In some states, real estate attorneys are required by law to be involved in certain aspects of real estate transactions. For example, in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington D.C., and West Virginia, attorneys must oversee the closing process. Note that a real estate attorney is not required in the state of Utah, though they can provide numerous valuable services when buying or selling a property.

The exact duties they must perform vary by state, but usually include reviewing all documents, facilitating document execution, and disbursing funds. So if you’re buying or selling a property in one of these mandatory attorney states, you’ll need to factor legal fees into your closing costs.

When a Real Estate Attorney is Recommended

Even if not legally required, there are situations where having a real estate attorney represent you is highly recommended:

  • First-time homebuyers who want guidance through the complex process
  • Purchasing a home through auction, foreclosure, or short sale
  • Buying commercial property or raw land intended for development
  • Selling a property with additional assets like a business
  • Signing a lease agreement with complicated terms
  • Settling an estate that includes real property

Having a lawyer can give you peace of mind that your interests are protected, everything is done correctly, and you avoid potential issues down the line. They bring expertise in real estate law and transactions that most buyers and sellers lack.

When You May Not Need a Real Estate Attorney

In straightforward, residential property transactions that don’t involve special circumstances, hiring an property attorney may be an unnecessary expense. For basic buying/selling with standard documents, the services of a qualified real estate agent and title company are often sufficient.

If you’re an experienced homebuyer, understand the contracts, are comfortable with the process, and don’t foresee any complex legal matters, you may be able to handle the transaction without an attorney. But it’s wise to at least consult one if you have concerns.

So weigh your specific situation; an attorney is worth the investment anytime legal expertise can prevent problems or give you greater peace of mind. They become more essential the more complicated the deal.

What Legal Issues Can a Real Estate Lawyer Help With?

Real estate attorneys can provide legal guidance and services for a wide range of issues that may come up when buying, selling, or owning property. Some of the most common legal matters a real estate lawyer can assist with include:

Contract Disputes
If any disagreements arise related to the real estate purchase contract, a real estate attorney can help resolve the issue. For example, if the seller fails to make agreed upon repairs or misses the closing date, your attorney can send a demand letter and advise you on the best course of action.

Title Problems
Issues like liens, unpaid taxes, easements or deed restrictions uncovered during the title search are examples of potential title problems. A real estate attorney can clear these “clouds” on the title to ensure clean ownership.

Foreclosures
If you are facing foreclosure, an attorney can advise you on options like mortgage modifications, short sales, deed in lieu of foreclosure, and bankruptcy protection. If representing the lender, they handle the legal filings and proceedings to recoup the unpaid loan.

Short Sales
A short sale is when the lender agrees to let a financially distressed owner sell the home for less than what is owed on the mortgage. Navigating the complex short sale process requires a real estate attorney.

Litigation
Real estate attorneys handle lawsuits and disputes involving property interests. This can include boundary or survey disputes with neighbors, claims of adverse possession, and disputes over easements or encroachments.

Leases
Attorneys review or draft residential and commercial property leases. They can also help address issues between landlords and tenants such as security deposit disputes and evictions.

Questions You Should Ask When Interviewing a Real Estate Attorney

When the time comes to interview a real estate lawyer, be sure to ask some questions. Following are some good questions to ask upfront:

  • How long have you practiced real estate law? This helps you understand how much experience they have specifically with real estate transactions. Look for 5+ years of experience if possible.
  • How many real estate transactions have you handled? The number of deals they’ve worked on indicates their level of expertise. There is no “perfect” number, but you definitely want an attorney that has handled more than a few dozen clients and transactions.
  • What is your availability and responsiveness? Make sure the attorney has capacity to dedicate time to your transaction and will be responsive to calls, texts or emails. This can prevent delays.
  • What services do you provide? Be sure the attorney can handle all the services you’ll be needing, such as negotiating offers, reviewing contracts, conducting title searches, researching HOA docs, and more. You might also ask what services they plan to outsource, if any.
  • What are your fees? Ask about their fee structure – whether they charge hourly, flat fees, or fees based on the sale price. Get an estimate for total costs so you won’t get any big surprises at closing.

Vetting an attorney’s experience, availability, services, and costs ensures you choose one well-suited for your needs. Asking key questions helps set proper expectations.