As a New Jersey resident, you aren’t legally required to hire a real estate attorney when you’re selling your home, but there are some circumstances when it pays to have one on your side. If you find yourself in one of the scenarios below, think twice before taking on the sale without one. A real estate attorney can help reduce stress, simplify the process and save you money in the long run.
You’re Selling A Distressed Property
Here in New Jersey, that can mean a home damaged by Hurricane Sandy. It can also mean a home damaged by water and mold in general, termites or a host of other structural issues.
If you don’t have the means to fix it, you’ll have to decide what your practical options are. Will you fix any of the issues, or will the buyer be expected to purchase the house as-is?
There are some important nuances to understand when you’re selling a damaged home as-is, namely, that the home is still subject to inspection. And while you may not be required to make repairs or credit the buyer for repairs, the buyer can still cancel the deal if the issues are too significant, for example, in the case of major foundational or septic issues.
Cosmetic issues, like cracked tiles or peeling paint, are not a concern, but you should understand the implications of serious damage and be prepared to deal with them.
An attorney can help you avoid problem scenarios by ensuring that contracts are worded to protect your interests. Knowing the issues before the potential buyer brings them to your attention means your attorney can disclose them effectively and help mitigate problems with the contract later. For example, your roof may be at the end of its useful life, but if it’s not leaking, then the wording of the contract should state clearly that both parties understand the roof issue, and thus, the home has been priced accordingly.
Sample wording might read: The roof is at the end of its useful life, but in working order and free of leaks. Accordingly, no repairs and/or credits will be offered and the lack of same is not a valid reason to cancel the contract.
In this example, the buyer is made aware of the old roof, and also made aware that the home price reflects its age and condition. The statement above ensures that the buyer won’t be able to cancel the contract for reasons related to the the roof after the home is inspected.
You’re The Heir Or An Executor Of A Property Whose Owner Is Deceased
Often, as an heir or executor, you have not been living in the home, which means you haven’t been responsible for its upkeep and you can’t fully know how well or if the house was maintained.
You’ll be presented with questions you likely don’t know the answers to – for example, how old is the furnace? How old is the air conditioning unit? Have they been serviced regularly? It’s dangerous to assume that you think you know, even if you’ve had conversations with the prior owner about it. In the absence of absolute proof, you’re best served letting your attorney speak for you in terms that legally protect you and disclose your limited knowledge.
As the seller of an estate, you may not want to put money out of pocket to make improvements. If you’ll be obtaining a CO (Certificate of Occupancy) and nothing more, or if perhaps you’re aware of structural issues and don’t have the money to take care of them to bring the house up to code, you’ll want to sell the home as-is. The same rules apply as mentioned above – you’ll want your attorney to protect you and word contracts in effective ways that protect your interests.
You’re Selling A House With A Non-Cooperative Partner (Such As In A Divorce)
Divorce is a messy time. Emotions are high and the process is not always amicable. If you find yourself dealing with someone who is holding up the sale, or if you can’t agree on a sale price, it’s time to hire a real estate attorney.
In a divorce, one attorney cannot represent both parties. However, your real estate attorney works on both sellers’ behalf and will remain unbiased. A real estate attorney can also work with both parties’ divorce attorneys to facilitate the sale of the home and make sure it’s sold as quickly as possible. Therefore, it’s in your best interests to have an attorney who can represent you equally, go to court on your behalf and facilitate the process when challenges arise. If one party breaches a contract, the other party may choose to sue. If that happens, you’ll absolutely want legal representation to protect you in the event that things go south or you find yourself required to pay damages.
You Have A Gut Feeling Something Could Go Wrong Based On Your Knowledge Of The Property
If you’ve lived in your home for a while, then you already know where the problem areas may arise. If you have a suspicion that those things may haunt you in a sale, it’s time to contact an attorney.
When things go wrong, it raises questions and uncertainties and you’ll need someone to help you navigate the challenges. Your attorney can help with the “what if” scenarios – natural disasters, flooding, lightning, fire, and the unexpected. If you’re in a flood zone post-Sandy, what happens if you suddenly discover that your house needs to be raised? These are circumstances best left to a professional.
You Have Judgements Or Liens In Your Background
If you know you have judgements or liens, or if you aren’t sure whether you do, but there’s a chance something is lingering from your past, legal representation can save you money and headaches. Issues can surface if you have poor credit, if you haven’t been paying your mortgage, if you had bad debts years ago but forgot about them, or if you have outstanding child support payments.
These debts will need to be paid before you can sell your home and an attorney can help you negotiate them down so you may be able to save substantially on your payments.
Sometimes you may have judgements or liens that you aren’t aware of because they shouldn’t even be there. For example, if you refinance your mortgage, the original mortgage needs to be paid off. That includes filing the proper paperwork, which unfortunately doesn’t always happen. So even though you technically don’t have any outstanding liens, you’re still responsible for proving it. That can mean research and legwork that can be too time consuming and cumbersome for you to do without an experienced attorney.
If you find yourself in any of these scenarios, call a real estate attorney to help. You’ll enjoy far more peace of mind and likely obtain a far better result than if you had tried to navigate the process alone.
If you’re planning to sell a home, get in touch with us and we’ll schedule a free consultation to see how we can help.