Hooray! You listed your home and found a buyer. Now all that’s left to do is close the deal. To ensure it all goes smoothly, you know you should hire a real estate lawyer. But you might be wondering, do I really need one? Just what does a real estate attorney do for a seller? The short answer is that they oversee home sales from contract signing and negotiating to close, preventing any problems. What’s more, in NYC, it’s actually required that an attorney represent both buyers and sellers in the sale of real property. So yes, you really do need one. Here’s everything you need to know about hiring a real estate lawyer in NYC as a home seller.

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    How Real Estate Lawyers Help During the Selling Process

    Now, more than ever, an attorney is incredibly valuable to a seller in a real estate transaction. Seasoned real estate lawyers can navigate this complex process confidently. They help mitigate potential risks and ensure the deal closes. (Especially if unforeseen circumstances arise.) Here are a few instances where a lawyer really comes in handy:

    • Resolving Lien Issues: One of the most common closing day issues is a lien that affects title. (For example, mechanic’s liens from previous contracts or subcontractors.) These must be satisfied or bonded before closing. “A seller’s attorney will be able to review the title well in advance of closing,” says Shaun W. Pappas, a real estate attorney, and partner at Starr Associates. “They can identify issues that could impact the conveyance and make sure that they are addressed.”
    • Balancing Interests of a Joint Sale: Are you selling a home with a party other than your spouse? A real estate lawyer ensures that both parties’ interests are considered. They can handle the back and forth of any contract details, so both parties feel they get the best possible deal.
    • Handling Estate Sales: Estate sales are complicated transactions. They require additional work and due diligence on behalf of the seller. Many additional documents are required: the will, lien and tax documents, and more. “Many times, the seller’s estate will need to make sure the IRS is not owed any outstanding debts,” says Pappas. “They will also need to confer with the title company and seller’s accountants to make sure the deed can be conveyed without a lien.”
    • Ensuring a Smooth Short Sale: In a short sale, the lender permits you to sell for less than the amount you owe. That results in more paperwork and complexities that an attorney will help simplify.
    • Negotiating Closing Day Issues: Potential problems that could compromise a deal can pop up even during the closing day walkthrough. If a buyer notices something they didn’t see before, they may want the seller to credit the issue. (This could include damage that was not apparent while the apartment was furnished). Many buyers also ask for a post-closing escrow to be posted if the issue needs remediation after the closing. “Your attorney will help to avoid these types of situations,” says Pappas. “But, in the event they are agreed to, the lawyer will be present to draft and negotiate favorable terms on your behalf.”
    • Making Sure Things Move Efficiently: Keep in mind that closings must occur within a specified time frame. Failure to efficiently handle any pre-closing issues can expose the seller to significant damage. It could even potentially lead to a canceled transaction.
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    How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Real Estate Attorney?

    The average cost for negotiating a contract and closing a sale can range between $2,500 and $7,500. According to Pappas, this generally depends on the type of asset being sold. If there are liens to be resolved or title issues to be cleared, that may also affect the price.

    How Do I Find a Real Estate Lawyer?

    Real estate attorneys are plentiful in NYC, and you can easily find one via word of mouth or internet searches. Looking for someone with a strong record of handling closings will ensure you’re getting a seasoned vet. (Pappas’s firm, for example, holds more than 1,500 closings a year.)

    In addition, many accountants and real estate brokers can recommend attorneys they have worked with effectively in the past. Using agent-recommended lawyers can add an extra layer of confidence: You know you have a team that works well together.

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    An Attorney Is Especially Helpful During the Pandemic

    COVID-19 made everything more complicated, including selling a home. According to Pappas, many purchasers have attempted to leverage the pandemic to avoid their contractual obligations. Some took advantage of the uncertainty to try to renegotiate sale prices for contracts that were already fully executed. And many were able to prevail.

    “For example, during the height of the pandemic, several NYC buildings shut down the ability to move in and move out of apartments,” says Pappas. “Therefore, a buyer who missed a closing date could argue that the contract could be canceled because the seller could not deliver the apartment based on these circumstances.” For such delays, which fall outside of the seller’s control, a real estate lawyer can ensure that provisions are in the contract to help protect the seller.

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