You’re about to buy your first house in the Washington, D.C., area — either in Arlington or Herndon, Virginia or Silver Springs, Maryland. You’ve been preapproved for a mortgage, have a buyer’s agent lined up and have found what looks like your ideal home. One question remains: Do you need a real estate attorney before you go any further? In the D.C. area, including Virginia and Maryland, the answer is no, not officially. While the law doesn’t require you to hire an attorney, there might be times when having one is useful.
How an attorney can help in general
A real estate attorney can help you out in several ways when you’re buying a home, according to Nolo. She can review the contract with you and explain any aspects of it that are hard to understand. If you’re buying a condo in the D.C. area, the attorney can look closely at the finances for the condo’s board and alert you to any potential issues. Your attorney can also review the title and make sure there are no liens on the property.
Because the attorney doesn’t profit or lose if you buy the house or not, she serves as a completely neutral party in the transaction. You’re on the hook for paying the attorney even if you back away from the deal, so you can rely on her to give you an accurate picture of what’s going on with the transaction.
An attorney can prove particularly useful if you’re not going through the standard home buying process. If you are buying a short sale or foreclosure in the D.C. area, it’s important to know that Virginia, Maryland and D.C. each have slightly different rules about foreclosed or bank-owned property. Each has a slightly different process for foreclosure. A real estate attorney can guide you through the purchase and make sure that all paperwork meets the specific requirements for the state or area.
You might want to work with a real estate attorney when you are buying a home in which you plan to add on or adjust the zoning in some way. For example, if you want to build an additional story or add an in-law suite to the building, an attorney can help you through the zoning process or let you know if such a thing would be possible. An attorney can also help you if you want to convert an owner-occupied property into a rental.
Choosing an attorney
If you decide to work with a real estate attorney, find out what the fees will be in advance. You also want to find out about the lawyer’s experience with real estate. Look for an attorney who specializes in real estate and who has a few years of experience with cases similar to yours.
While an attorney isn’t a must-have in D.C., hiring one can give you some peace of mind.
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