Whether you’re buying a brand new construction or an old fixer-upper, you’re not legally required to hire a real estate attorney in New Jersey. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some scenarios where it is very likely a mistake NOT to. If you find yourself in one of these circumstances, stop! Take a deep breath – and get your real estate attorney on the phone. You’ll save yourself time, aggravation, probably money and almost definitely heartache in the long run.
You’re An Out Of Town Buyer
If you don’t live in the area where you plan to purchase your home, it’s pretty safe to say that you don’t know the town, the people or the regulations. And you probably don’t even know what you don’t know!
In any geographic location, there are typically realtors and attorneys who’ve been around the block together, so to speak. They’re the ones who understand the area because they’ve worked there and have had a chance to experience it firsthand.
Not only that, but they understand each other. Since they deal with common scenarios in the same town, chances are they’ve gotten to know each other, understand how the other operates, and recognize the mutual challenges, limitations and opportunities.
This affords you the advantage of working with people who are not only highly knowledgeable in an area where you likely aren’t, but people who are accustomed to extending each other professional courtesies as part of routine business. That can make the entire process a lot more seamless and stress free for you.
Since most real estate attorneys practice in or near the town where they personally reside, they can answer questions for you from an insider’s perspective. They’ll also be able to guide you through the specific regulations of a town and help you navigate them with an ease you could not assume on your own.
You’re Buying A Property As A Short Sale Or One That Is Bank-Owned
When it comes to short sales and bank sales, realtors may not necessarily be experienced in how they work, especially if they are relatively new to the industry. But real estate attorneys are, which means you’ll get entirely different – and beneficial – guidance from an attorney than if you relied on your real estate agent alone.
These types of sales come with inherent risk. As the buyer, you are essentially agreeing to be responsible for everything – from paying for an inspection to obtaining a CO (Certificate of Occupancy) – in exchange for purchasing the house at a low price.
If the house is bank owned, a host of details come into play. For example, did your realtor confirm that the Sheriff’s Deed has been filed? Most people don’t even know what that is, and the omission can mean a tremendous headache for you.
In short, if a bank takes ownership of a house, the Sheriff has to deed the house to the bank so the bank can subsequently sell it. It’s an absolute must that the proper paperwork be filed or the bank cannot legally sell the house. Filing the proper paperwork can take time, especially in an area where foreclosures are high and agencies tend to be overwhelmed and understaffed.
Even if the paperwork has been filed, it may have gone missing as companies go bankrupt, consolidate, sell off deeds and disappear. That means time to track the paperwork down before the sale can take place. Without an attorney on your side, it’s nearly impossible to even know where to start.
Either way, whether you’re buying as part of a short sale, or buying a bank owned home, there’s a chance that the house you’re looking to purchase has been sitting unoccupied for a while. Sometimes, that means the house has fallen into disrepair and you may find out that it’s prohibitively expensive to get the house up to code to obtain the CO. Other times, an abandoned house may have been stripped of copper, which is valuable on the black market, but a real problem for you as a buyer if the home is missing its pipes and infrastructure.
Your attorney can help you navigate these challenges, ensure that you’re aware of your responsibilities and any potential dangers, and even help word contracts so that you have an escape hatch if things really go south.
You’re Buying A Property That’s Part Of An Estate
When dealing with an estate sale, it usually means that someone has passed away and the heirs or remaining children are selling the home.
Unfortunately, when money is involved, family doesn’t always get along. And when it comes to selling an old home, they don’t necessarily want to spend money to fix the house up just to get rid of it.
Just as in a short sale or bank sale, the house may have been vacant for a while, or may have been occupied by an elderly person who was unable to keep up with repairs. Worse for you as the buyer, it’s unlikely the sellers will do more than obtain a CO, and will not make additional repairs or credit you for any you must make yourself.
There may not be a will, the family may not be prepared, they may not have the money to get it up to code… the list of pitfalls goes on. You may end up being responsible for costly repairs before you can even qualify for a loan.
Plus, if estate taxes or inheritance taxes are due, you’ll need proof that they’ve been paid or you can end up in serious hot water. Your attorney will know what to ask for and where to find it.
You’re Buying A Property With Potential Structural Issues
This scenario dovetails with the two above, because many times short sales or bank owned properties are damaged, and here in New Jersey, that can also involve flood damage from Hurricane Sandy.
Most damaged properties are sold as-is, so you need to know how to protect yourself. That’s where your real estate attorney comes in. An attorney will know how to word a contract so that if the damage is too significant, you can cancel the sale and get your money back without being in breach of contract.
In Sandy-damaged cases, you may be required to raise the house before you can move in. The requirements depend entirely on the town where you’re buying the home. Your attorney will know what questions to ask and what answers to look out for.
You’re Buying A Property In A Flood Zone
The most common questions asked by buyers of homes in flood zones are: “Am I required to carry flood insurance?” and “What will it cost?”
The answers depend entirely on the flood zone you’re in – and it’s something you should rely on your attorney to guide you through.
If the house was raised, you’ll need a Flood Elevation Certificate, which will help bring down the cost of your insurance. Again, this is something best left in the hands of an attorney who understands the requirements and complexities, and who can file, search for and obtain the proper documentation.
If any of these scenarios apply to you, call a real estate attorney BEFORE you start the buying process. You’ll have the peace of mind knowing that someone is looking out for your best interests and knows the ins-and-outs from experience.
If you’re considering buying a property that falls into any of these categories, let us know. We’ll schedule a free consultation to discuss how we can help.