With mortgage rates dropping to unprecedented lows, the real estate market continues to thrive despite the ongoing economic upheaval. In fact, for many prospective buyers and sellers, there has never been a better time to act.
If you’re thinking about buying or selling a home, you’ve probably wondered about real estate attorney fees. How much are they? Do you even need an attorney? Keep reading now to get the full scoop on the value and cost of a real estate attorney.
Why You Need an Attorney
The first thing that most people want to know when investigating real estate lawyer fees is whether they have to pay them at all.
The idea of skipping a lawyer and saving yourself some money can seem appealing at first glance. Like home inspectors, however, attornies represent a modest upfront cost that can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future.
Property sales can be complex. Even relatively simple sales involve piles of paperwork full of legalese that can difficult or impossible to fully understand. Yet when you sign those papers, you agree to the terms even if you don’t understand them.
An attorney can interpret your real estate contracts and lay the details out for you in plain language. They can help you identify and avoid or alter clauses that are not in your best interest. At every step of the way, they make your sale go as painlessly as possible.
Some states require that every home sale involve an attorney. Others require lawyers only in certain circumstances, such as when there are legal disputes over the ownership of the home in question. In most cases, these laws call for “closing attorneys” specifically.
Closing attorneys are neutral parties. They do not represent either the buyer or the seller, though both parties share in the cost for their services. If either party wants their own private attorney involved, that person and the costs for their services are separate.
Real Estate Lawyer Cost Structures
Now that you know why you need an attorney, it’s important to understand real estate lawyer cost structures. There are four primary ways that attorneys charge for their services:
Your total cost will depend primarily on which pricing structure your attorney uses.
Attorneys may charge flat fees for a set service. These fees can be in the form of a dollar amount or a percentage. For example, a closing attorney may charge $1,000 or one percent of closing costs as their standard fee.
In these cases, the attorney-client contract will define exactly what that service entails. It will clearly state any limits involved and may specify “add on” charges for services required beyond or outside those limits.
Package deals are similar to flat fees. Attorneys who offer a variety of flat-fee services may bundle related services that buyers or sellers frequently buy together into discounted packages for everyone’s convenience.
Alternatively, attorneys may charge by the hour. Standard rates from around $150 to approximately $350 per hour.
Under these contracts, your attorney will do all the work required on your case and tally up the number of hours required to get it done. Your cost will be their total number of hours multiplied by the number of hours they worked on your case.
Add-ons can vary depending on your lawyer and your contract. Unscrupulous attorneys may use add-ons as ways to sneak extra fees onto your bill. More upstanding attorneys will use add-ons to cover the cost of one-off services not included in the package or flat service you contracted for.
For example, expedited services may carry an extra charge.
Average Real Estate Attorney Fees
By now, you may be thinking “that’s all well and good, but how much should a real estate attorney cost in actual dollars?”
On average, closing attorneys cost between $500 and $3,000 dollars.
Attorneys acting privately on behalf of the buyer or the seller typically charge hourly rates. These typically range from $150 to $350 per hour.
Your final cost can vary widely. In simple transactions, your total cost is likely to be low. Complex or contentious sales usually cost a great deal more as more attorney time and effort are required.
Other Factors That Influence Attorney Cost
Real estate lawyer fees are influenced by more than just pricing structure. They are also strongly impacted by:
Attornies, like everything else, cost more in states with higher costs of living. They are also generally more expensive in states with heavier bureaucratic and legal burdens built into the home sale process.
Type of Sale and Complexity
Single-family homes in good condition are typically the least expensive to buy and sell. Properties with shared ownership or specific owner requirements, such as condos, can be more complicated and therefore more costly.
New developments are also expensive to buy and sell. In fact, they can cost up to twice what other property sales do.
Choice of Attorney
Experienced attorneys are in high demand. As a result, they may cost more than less experienced attorneys.
That experience is typically worth paying for, however. It can save you huge amounts of time, money, and stress later on.
When Fees Are Due
Now that you’ve answered the question “how much is a real estate attorney?” it’s worth noting when that payment is due.
In standard closing attorney situations, fees are due when you close on the sale.
In all other cases, your contract will specify what you owe and when. Often, you must make a payment upfront of up to 50 percent of the package cost, flat fee, or projected final hourly cost. The rest will be due at closing or a certain amount of time after closing, such as one week from your closing date.
Finding an Attorney
Real estate attorney fees are worth every penny, and knowing how to navigate the real estate system sets you up to be a savvy buyer or seller. Check out the other great articles on our blog to brush up on other invaluable real estate tips and tricks and jump into the market with confidence.