You’ve just signed the Agreement of Purchase and Sale and you’re on your way to acquiring your dream home, the biggest acquisition of your life. You are elated and you believe the hard work is done, but it is actually just beginning. You have millions of questions and details swirling through your mind: financing, home insurance, home inspection, a mover, a home-decorator, etc. But you may be overlooking the most important piece of the puzzle: the real estate lawyer who will handle your transaction.
Retaining a real estate lawyer is not a simple undertaking. The same amount of care, if not more, must be taken when selecting a real estate lawyer as when selecting a real estate agent, home inspector and mortgage specialist. Remember, your real estate transaction is financially the largest transaction you can make, and has the greatest risks and liability associated with it. So, careful consideration must be employed when selecting a real estate lawyer. The question is: what should you consider when choosing a real estate lawyer?
In today’s legal environment, lawyers specialize in different areas of law such as matrimonial, criminal, business, litigation, estate planning and others. Some real estate lawyers specialize in residential real estate, while others do commercial real estate. Buying or selling a home requires a residential real estate specialist, and even within residential real estate, there is specialization.
When selecting a real estate lawyer, look at the services that the lawyer offers: is the lawyer available when you require him or her most, especially when disputes arise either during or after the transaction closes? Does the lawyer deal with your transaction personally from beginning to end, or does the lawyer delegate work to clerks, assistants and secretaries? Does the lawyer have multiple offices that service hundreds of transactions each month and employs teams of employees, or is the operation small and hands-on? Clearly, personal attention by the lawyer can be an important and deciding factor when selecting a lawyer, and often separates one real estate lawyer from another. A real estate lawyer who spreads himself too thin can expose himself to liability; Such a lawyer may not be the best choice to serve your legal interests. Today, most real estate transactions are handled by real estate clerks, however, it is the lawyer who has final legal responsibility on each file, and must be on top of everything from beginning to end. Ensure your real estate lawyer values you as a client, and can be contacted quickly to answer your questions and/or concerns, or can meet one-on-one without charging a fee, either by appointment or walk-in. You can even further research your lawyer on the Law Society of Upper Canada’s website to find their legal experience and history.
Lastly, bargain-hunting, cost-cutting, and negotiating down legal fees, in my opinion, is the wrong approach when selecting a real estate lawyer. I find it very interesting, baffling, and even paradoxical that for the most expensive transaction in a person’s life, people search out lawyers that advertise the cheapest legal fees. Many times, when prospective clients call me to inquire about my real estate services, the first question is “What’s the cost?” and “Can you lower your prices?” Many real estate clients, but not all, are not interested initially in services offered, experience of the lawyer and staff, and the process of the transaction. However, with marginal price differences between lawyers, costs should not be the primary criteria that sways a decision. Yes, price is important but so is availability, affability and ability of the lawyer and staff.
With a real estate acquisition being the largest asset transaction of your life, the question becomes what kind of real estate lawyer are you looking for. My recommendation is to interview the lawyer and their staff-members. Ask questions and if you are looking into a lawyer through a referral, still ask questions and interview the lawyer. Ultimately, trust your instincts, as there is no right or wrong way to select a real estate lawyer.