Do Attorneys Need a Real Estate Title Attorney for a Home Purchase?

Purchasing a home does not just involve the buyer and the seller. A real estate title company/attorney may be involved in your home buying journey, ensuring a clear and unencumbered title to the home in question. If you are a newly degreed attorney, an established attorney looking for a first home, or if you are ready to refinance your home, Attorney Mortgage can help you understand the role a title company/attorney plays in the purchase.

How Does a Real Estate Title Attorney Help the New Home Buyer?

 “A real estate attorney can, among other things, help a home buyer research title to a property in which they are interested to make sure that the seller owns what s/he claims to own, and confirm that title can be transferred free of other interests, including liens or other encumbrances,” says Nina B. Ries, principal of Ries Law Group in Los Angeles, California. “If any issues arise pertaining to title the attorney can help have them removed prior to closing or, alternatively, advise a home buyer on how best to proceed if they cannot be cleared.”

In some states including California, attorneys are not required for closings. Attorney Mortgage can help you determine if a real estate title attorney is required in your state. Regardless, hiring a real estate title attorney could prevent problems in the future. 

“Most of the time, things work out. But in some instances, the parties belatedly learn that an ounce of prevention, whether in the form of a consult or some legal action, could have spared them a great deal of headache, heartache, time, and expense,” says Ries. 

A residential real estate title attorney will review a title report, which contains information and details about the history of a property. The report will tell you who legally owns the property at time of sale, if there are any liens or other legal issues connected to the property, any ownership disputes, and other information. 

Title insurance protects both the homebuyer and the lender against any damages from problems that may arise from titles. Some of the circumstances that are covered by a typical policy include:

  • forgery or fraud of documents
  • restrictive covenants
  • liens or lawsuits
  • ownership issues

Property, Lines, and Easements

“A title report will show you a legal description of the property. If you are buying a single-family home, it will give you what is called the metes and bounds description – similar to a survey reading, which should also be encompassed in in the title report,” says Jonharold Cicero, real estate attorney and partner at DL Partners, in New York City.  “You should get a survey reading if you are buying a standing structure. You want to know your property lines, if you are encroaching on on someone else, or if someone else is encroaching on you,” says Cicero. “

“Maybe you share a driveway with a neighbor. Does your neighbor really own the driveway that you will access, and do you have an easement right in perpetuity to it? Could your neighbor suddenly decide that they are going to put the driveway on the other side of their property and make that area a yard? Typically, townships don’t allow that, but these are things you have to look into,” says Cicero. “A survey and legal description of what your property consists of will give you an idea of what your obligations might be.” 

Ries recalls a transaction involving easement issues. “We learned of some critical easements that would have prevented my clients from using the property they were buying for their intended use. Had my clients closed on the transaction without a title search, and without investigation into the various easements running across the property, they would have been in for a rude awakening during development,” says Ries. “The preliminary title work we did saved our clients tens of millions of dollars.”

Cicero’s company has managed many cases of older homes that have been owned by families for years, and have eventually come up for sale. “People pass away, and the family inherits it.  We go to close, and we find that the $70,000 mortgage from 1972 was never paid off or recorded. It was a 30-year mortgage, clearly it’s done at this point, and nobody has foreclosed on the property. But it was never officially satisfied on record.”

Even owner misidentifications have caused problems with some property transactions. Ries’ company discovered a problem with a lien during a client transaction. “We learned that a lien had been filed against a property based on a debt owed by someone with a virtually identical name to my client. Although we were able to clear this lien, the process did take about two weeks, because we needed to show evidence of the mistaken identity.” 

What Should Home Buyers Know about Real Estate Title Attorneys?

“Title attorneys differ from title insurance representatives in that the attorney works for you, seeks to protect your interests, and can provide you with legal advice,” explains Ries. “A title insurance representative, even if an attorney represents the title company, seeks to protect the title insurer (including by carving out potential issues from your policy), and will not provide you with any legal opinion or advice.”

In New York City, Cicero deals with regulations that are constantly changing, and older buildings that are grandfathered in, or exempt from, some of the regulations. A real estate title attorney can navigate these changes for the homebuyer, and ensure compliance. “As the properties age, people want to make renovations, or buy something with character in a great neighborhood and modernize it,” he explains. “The city is going to say, yes, we’ll give you the permits, but then you must be compliant with where the code is today.”

Attorney Mortgage can help you find and engage a real estate title company/attorney that fits your particular needs, to make sure your new home is free of encumbrances. 

“A home is, for most people, their largest single asset,” says Ries. She encourages potential buyers to hire an attorney to: 

  • review the contract with them in detail to help them understand each component of the deal; 
  • help them navigate disclosures, inspection reports, and the preliminary title report, among other things; 
  • advise on any issues that arise during due diligence; and 
  • try to manage risk. 

“Although attorneys are not cheap, the fees for this type of representation will almost always pale in comparison to the cost of the house you are buying,” she says. “They can also pale in comparison to the cost of litigating a dispute that might have been avoided.”

If you are a newly degreed attorney, an established attorney looking for a first home, or if you are ready to refinance your home, Attorney Mortgage can help you navigate the entire loan process. Begin to build long-term wealth and create financial flexibility through home ownership today.  Contact us here or call (816) 456-7478.

Ready to find out more?

If you are a newly degreed attorney, an established attorney looking for a first home, or if you are ready to re-finance your home, Attorney Mortgage can help you navigate the loan process. Contact us or call (816) 860-1686.

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