Danielle Colyer has been practicing Real Estate Law in the Chicagoland area for over 15 years.

Danielle Colyer has been practicing Real Estate Law in the Chicagoland area for over 15 years.


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If you are selling or buying property in Chicago or the in Chicagoland area, here are a few things to think about.

Every real estate transaction will involve a lot of moving parts.  Real estate brokers, mortgage lenders, home inspectors, appraisers – these are just a few of the players in the average real estate transaction.

Whether you are selling your home, buying your first home, purchasing investment property, or assisting a family member with the sale of their property, it is a good idea to start by seeking legal assistance early in the process.

With any deal, you will likely have an attorney review period, a home inspection period, and a mortgage contingency period.

Your realtor and your lender are there to help you in their respective roles, but the attorney you choose will manage these periods and their expiration dates, and a good attorney can help make this process go more smoothly.

The last thing you want to do is have all of these items overwhelm you and add unnecessary stress to the process.

No matter if you are buying or selling, this 8 part video series will give you answers to some of the most common questions you have when preparing for a real estate closing.

Do I really need an attorney?

I have met people over the years who say things like, “I bought a home in California and we didn’t use attorneys there.”  Or they say “This is a simple cash transaction.  What can go wrong?”

Northern Illinois is an attorney state when it comes to real estate closings.  If you are selling your property, most reputable title companies will not schedule your closing unless you are represented by an attorney.

If you are buying property with a loan, the stack of papers waiting for you at the closing table is on average an inch thick.  An experienced real estate attorney can help you navigate that pile in less than an hour.

There are a lot of moving parts in every real estate transaction.  An experienced attorney can help manage these parts for you so you can focus on other things, such as planning your move.

Many people have very little experience with the documents utilized in the average real estate transaction, or it has been a long time since their last real estate closing.

If you are using a real estate broker, think of it this way – Just like you have hired a real estate broker to help you buy or sell real estate, you should hire an attorney experienced in real estate transactions to help you navigate the next part of the process.

And, if you are NOT using a real estate broker at all, then you are hiring your attorney to do both jobs, therefore you should contact an attorney experienced in real estate transactions even sooner.

Look for someone who understands the local real estate transaction practices where the property is located.  Just like in the City of Chicago, each City and Village surrounding Chicago can have their own inspection practices, bill payment requirements, and transfer taxes.

Not all attorneys are the same and randomly picking one can be the equivalent of flipping a coin.  You want an attorney who will be honest with you and assist you with what can often be an emotional transition.

Buying and selling property can be very stressful.  Having an experienced attorney with you through this process will hopefully ease some of that stress, as well as protect your best interests at the same time.

What does a real estate attorney do?

There are non-legal services that claim they can do all the legal work you need or provide you with the necessary forms, but when it comes to real estate, this really isn’t the time to do-it-yourself.

Your attorney will review your contract and likely communicate with you and your real estate agent and work to coordinate your closing.  Beyond that, your attorney’s role will be specific to the transaction.

For example, if you’re a buyer on a typical residential transaction, your attorney will likely assist you in the following ways:

  • Explain your contract and, if necessary, ask for modifications
  • Verify that the seller has the right to sell the property
  • Work with your lender to make sure your lender receives the documents they need to get your transaction clear to close
  • Examine the title and public records
  • Make sure the property is zoned properly
  • Review all the documents to ensure accuracy
  • Help you understand the purchase contract, including how you will take title on the property.
  • Check that there are no covenants, easements, liens, etc. recorded against the property that will impede your use of it.
  • Review all legal documents
  • Explain the terms of your loan
  • Review your prorations for items such as real estate taxes, utilities, and assessments.
  • Attend the closing and review all the papers you will be required to sign.
  • Review your title insurance protection to protect you from losses due to title defects.
  • Ensure you receive a valid recorded deed

If you’re a seller on a typical residential transaction, your attorney should:

  • Review your sale agreement, including negotiating its terms, if necessary.
  • Prepare the deed and other closing documents, and a power of attorney if necessary should you choose not to attend the closing for any reason.
  • Deal with title issues as they arise and address them as necessary.
  • Help you get a payoff letter from your current lender
  • Help you get a paid assessment letter and certificate of insurance if you are selling a condo.
  • If your property is in Chicago, arrange clerk service to obtain a full payment certificate for your water bill and zoning certificate
  • If your property is in the burbs, your attorney will check local ordinance for required inspections, bill payment, and transfer taxes in your area.
  • Finally, your attorney will attend the closing, either with you or on your behalf, and review all the papers you will be required to sign.

What are the things I need to look for when hiring a real estate attorney?

Most real estate agents are not licensed to practice law, and don’t have the legal training to alert you about issues that could be costly to fix down the road.

On the flip side, just because an attorney says they practice real estate law doesn’t mean they are a good fit for you or qualified to handle your case. When choosing a real estate attorney, be sure to ask these questions to make sure you’ve got the fit that is right for you.

Ask “How long have you been practicing real estate law?”

Before you hire an attorney, it is helpful to determine how much real-life legal experience she or he has in the area of real estate law.

An attorney who doesn’t practice real estate law on a regular basis will likely be unaware of important recent changes in the law, which can cause delays that can cost you time and money.

Ask “How many transactions like mine have you handled?”

Not all real estate matters are created equal. Ask if the attorney has dealt with transactions similar to yours. If they have, they will be better able to foresee potential problems and head them off.

Keep in mind though, while every real estate transaction is unique, some people may have a truly unique and unprecedented situation that even a veteran attorney has not encountered.

This is when an experienced attorney will dig in and do her best to help you find the solution to your specific problem.

Ask “How will you handle my transaction?”

You should be able to ask an attorney for a brief overview of what she or he plans to do on your behalf.

An experienced attorney who practices real estate law should be able to give you a rough outline of the actions that need to be taken for your transaction.

Feel free to ask questions about any components you do not understand.  Your first telephone conversation is a perfect time to decide whether this attorney is right for you.

Ask “Who else will be working on my case?”

Some law firms hand off the initial work on cases to a junior attorney, a paralegal or someone knowledgeable about the law, but not necessarily to a licensed attorney.

During your initial consultation, ask who will do the most work on your legal matter and make sure you’re comfortable with that person before proceeding. This is the best time to determine whether you have a rapport with that person and whether you’re getting the kind of attention you want.  You should choose an attorney who makes you feel at ease.

What are the common problems a real estate attorney will look for and protect me from?

The answer to this question is both simple and complex. Every real estate transaction is different with options open to the buyer and seller in the terms of the sale.

Your local real estate agent should be able to advise you as to what the protocol is in the area in which you are located. That is the simple answer.

The complex answer lies in the situation you find yourself in. Here are a few examples for buyers and sellers.

  • Are you an out of town buyer or seller
  • Are there judgments or liens on the subject property?
  • Are you buying a property that is in foreclosure, short sale, or bank owned?  Conversely, are you selling a property in active foreclosure or as a short sale?
  • Are you selling a property that is part of an estate in which you are an heir, executor, or administrator?  Or are you trying to buy a property that is part of an estate?
  • Are you buying or selling a commercial property?
  • Are you buying or selling a property that could potentially have some structural issues?
  • Are you selling or buying a property in a problematic area such as a flood zone or areas with adverse conditions (tornado prone, radon, toxicity levels, etc.)?
  • Are you selling a house with a non-cooperative partner?
  • Do you have that gut feeling that something could possibly go wrong based on knowledge you have about the property?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions then consulting with an attorney is simply a logical next step.  Let an attorney experienced in the area of real estate law help you find the answers to your questions.

What happens after I sign the contract with my real estate agent?

If you are a seller:

You can ask your attorney to review any offer you receive prior to accepting it.  In the event you have already accepted the offer, it is extremely important to hire your real estate attorney at this time if you have not already done so.

Your contract should have an attorney review period and home inspection period built in, and the length of time they cover varies from contract to contract.  During these periods you will likely receive a letter from your buyer’s attorney requesting both modifications to your existing contract and possible requests for repairs or credits based on the home inspection they may perform.

Your attorney, along with your real estate agent if you have one, will review any such letter with you and help you determine what is important and what is not, and when you are ready, your attorney will convey your response about what you are and are not willing to do.

The week or two following acceptance of a contract can be the most critical period in the deal and it is important that you have competent help available to you to answer your questions and guide you through the process.  Hire an experienced attorney as early in the process as possible.

In fact, you should hire your attorney as soon as you put your home on the market and the great thing about working with us is that it won’t cost you anything extra to retain us when you list your home.

If you are a buyer:

You can ask your attorney to review your offer before you submit it.  In the event you have already submitted an offer, and it has now been accepted, it is extremely important to hire your real estate attorney at this time if you have not already done so.

You should also consider hiring a home inspector to do a professional home inspection on your property, even if it is a condominium.  Your inspector can help you spot problem areas and code violations, helping you make an informed decision about the structure and interior of your potential new home.

Armed with that home inspection list, you should consult with your attorney for next steps.  Your attorney will review your contract and suggest modifications if necessary, and your attorney will ask you if you have any requests based on your home inspection.

These requests range from simple repairs to complex repairs.  Some buyers prefer credit to make the repairs themselves, or perhaps a purchase price reduction in lieu of repairs.  Based on your input, your attorney will then draft a letter encompassing these contractual modifications and home inspection requests and share it with your seller’s attorney.

A response from seller’s attorney typically follows, and your attorney will share that information with you and hopefully both you and the seller can agree and the transaction will move forward.  In the event an agreement cannot be reached, your attorney should be able to protect you in a way such that you can get your earnest money back should such a disagreement occur.

Remember though – time is of the essence.  The minute your seller signs your offer it becomes a contract and the clock begins to run.  If you wait too long, you could lose your earnest money or make other serious mistakes.

Hire an experienced attorney as early in the process as possible.  It can make a big difference for you.

What happens at the real estate closing – Seller’s Edition

As a seller, did you know in most cases you do not even have to attend the closing?  If you are selling property, in most cases, you can meet with your attorney ahead of time to sign closing papers and to sign a power of attorney giving your attorney the power to sign documents for you at the actual closing.

If you are an out of state seller, we can make arrangements for you also so that you do not have to travel to the closing.

Some sellers prefer to be at closing and if you decide to attend, you can expect to sign a short stack of closing documents, including the deed to convey the property, along with title company documents that will need to be completed.

What happens at the real estate closing – Buyer’s Edition

On average, every closing is different.  But in the average residential real estate closing, assuming you will be obtaining a loan to purchase the property, buyer will meet his or her attorney at the title company, and in many cases this may be the place where you meet your attorney in person for the first time.  Your lender may join you.  If you have an agent, your agent may join you.

But in general, you will work closely with your attorney to examine your loan documents, the documents prepared by seller’s attorney, and the documents required by the title company.  An experienced attorney knows these documents and will be able to walk you through them in an expeditious manner.

Once your documents are reviewed and signed, the closer continues to work with the processor at your lender’s office, and you will wait for approval from your lender so that the file may close and you will wait for funding, meaning the money will arrive by wire to the closing.

Again, keep in mind every deal is different and some files simply take longer to close than others, but it is certainly helpful to have experienced professionals working on your side, and that includes your attorney.

An attorney experienced in real estate can help make a big difference as to how smoothly your transaction closes.

How much is this going to cost me?

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.  Let’s face it, legal services are not free and generally hiring an attorney is not cheap.  If you are shopping for legal services, this is one area where you may want to avoid the bargain.

There are law firms and solo attorneys out there who will charge you extra low fees for your real estate transaction.

These firms typically are able to do so because they take on large numbers of closings.  They may make money by quantity of files they have, as opposed to the quality put in to each file and that usually means your file will be one of many and you may have difficulty getting your attorney on the phone.

We typically work on a flat fee basis for our real estate closing transactions and that fee is specific to the type of property, such as single family home, condominium, multi-unit, etcetera, and the type of transaction, for example, is the property bank owned or distressed in some way?

Is the transaction a cash sale or is there a loan involved?  For real estate closings, we offer competitive rates and we are typically paid at closing, which means you don’t need to come up with a partial payment or a retainer fee up front.