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What does a real estate attorney do?

A lawyer can help you through the closing process

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Written by Jennifer Schurman
Edited by Cassidy McCants
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Real estate attorneys help ensure the closing process flows smoothly, especially for first-time homebuyers. These lawyers can conduct title searches, prepare the Closing Disclosure and draw up settlement statements.

While not always a necessity, a real estate attorney can help you understand the process and protect your interests as you purchase a property.

What does a real estate attorney do for a buyer?

Your real estate attorney plays an important role when it's time to close on your new house. They’re responsible for making sure you understand what’s in the Closing Disclosure before you sign (though it’s still your responsibility to read the documents carefully and compile a list of any questions you have).

A real estate attorney can represent either the buyer or the seller, but not both at the same time. In some cases, there will be an attorney representing the lender.

A real estate attorney can represent the buyer, the seller or the lender in a real estate transaction.

This attorney completes the title search, which investigates any ownership claims on the property, and handles other research before closing. The title search helps ensure a smooth transition from the seller to the buyer.

The attorney also prepares all legal documentation you’ll sign at closing, including the deed, the Closing Disclosure and the mortgage agreement. They may arrange the title insurance policy too.

A real estate attorney can draw up the settlement statement, which includes a summary of the borrower’s and the seller’s transactions. They’ll calculate other costs, like real estate commissions and final closing costs, and disburse the funds to the appropriate parties after closing.

Do I need a lawyer to buy a house?

You don’t need a lawyer to put in an offer on a home, but some states (including Connecticut, Georgia and West Virginia) require an attorney for some part of the closing process (like facilitating the closing itself). Other states, like Alabama and Wyoming, require an attorney to certify the title.

Your mortgage lender may use a real estate attorney for representation at closing. As the buyer, you’ll likely be responsible for funding these services (included in the closing costs).

How to find a real estate lawyer

Finding a reputable attorney helps ensure that you're protected when buying a house. Real estate scams, like escrow wire fraud, are a growing concern today. You’ll want to do your research ahead of time to find the right professional for you.

Start by asking your friends and family for their recommendations. Your real estate agent is also a good source. Another option is to search the American Bar Association’s website for real estate lawyers in your state.

Once you’ve compiled a shortlist, you can search for each attorney on your state’s bar association website. You should be able to find their contact information and whether they’re eligible to practice law in your state (or in the state you’re moving to).

How much does a real estate attorney cost?

A real estate attorney usually charges either a flat or hourly fee. Your fees will vary based on the services they provide and the area you live in. Most flat fees range from $500 to $1,500, while hourly fees usually range from $150 to $350.

The attorney’s fees are often wrapped into the closing costs, which are outlined in the Loan Estimate you receive after you apply with the lender. You’ll also see the finalized closing costs in the Closing Disclosure, which you should receive at least three business days prior to closing.

Bottom line

Not all states require an attorney for closing, but many do for at least some steps in the process. An attorney is required if you live in an “attorney closing state” (to facilitate the closing and prepare legal documents) or an “attorney title opinion state” (to certify the title).

Even if your state doesn’t have an attorney requirement, it's often a good idea to hire one to protect yourself. Purchasing a home is one of the most important transactions of your life. A lawyer can look out for your best interests and answer any questions you have about the documents you’ll sign.

ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Do I need an attorney or anyone else to represent me when closing on a mortgage?” Accessed March 1, 2022.
  2. National Association of Realtors, “Highlights From the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.” Accessed Feb. 24, 2022.
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