When Should a Home Buyer Hire an Attorney in Michigan?
Updated: Dec 9, 2018
Many folks, myself included, have experienced the highs and lows of home buying. The honeymoon stage usually starts with looking at listings online, driving by to see the neighborhood, and walking through open houses while dreaming about how you would decorate the foyer, or how you might remodel the basement.
Next, we hit a certain point where we move past the dreaming stage and start taking action; this can start with a “how much can I afford” online app or a call to licensed real-estate agent. This is typically where we begin signing stacks and stacks of papers, that are hopefully read and understood. Finally, after several walkthroughs, and depending on the heat of the market, lost homes, we find one that we love, consult with our agent on a couple of elements of the purchase agreement, and sign the dotted line.
After the fun stage of home buying we typically enter the “what have I done” stage as we begin working towards closing. This is typically the stage where most of us start asking questions about the purchase agreement, zoning, easements, seller disclosures and we hear the dreaded words from our agent, “I am sorry, but I am not licensed to offer legal advice, you might want to talk to an attorney.”
Do you need an attorney to buy a home in Michigan?
No, unlike a few other states, Michigan does not require an attorney’s services to buy or sell a home. While this can be a good thing for seasoned buyers, or very simple transactions it does not mean an attorney should never be hired. Since, for most of us, buying a home is the single largest transaction that we will make in our lifetimes and with real estate agents not being able to offer legal advice, without potentially losing their license, there are clear benefits to involving an attorney early in the purchase process for the more complicated elements.
Real estate agents provide an important service in helping to guide buyers though a complex process and this articles intent is not to recommend against a buyer partnering with an agent, but rather to highlight transactions where a real estate attorney should be brought in as part of the team. An attorney should be consulted prior to signing a purchase agreement when any of the following transactional complexities exist (not an exhaustive list):
You do not completely understand the real estate process or the terms of the purchase agreement.
The real estate you are purchasing is either in foreclosure or probate.
You are purchasing the home through non-standard financing including land contracts or seller-financed mortgage.
The purchase is very complicated, or you do not fully trust the other party.
Title insurance, which is required in Michigan and intended to protect your interest against loss, identified title defects that may be correctable.
The real estate is part of a home owners association (“HOA”) or has other complicated zoning and land use planning (e.g. can I run a small business from my home.)
How much will it cost to hire an attorney?
Real estate attorneys in southeast Michigan generally charge between $150 and $300 dollars per hour. Many of the common legal tasks of buying a home can be completed relatively quickly and it is important when interviewing an attorney to make sure you get an estimate for the number of hours to handle the issues. Also, many attorneys will take your matter as a flat fee or value based pricing which takes much of the guessing on price out of the equation. It is important to remember that the attorney works for you, not the other way around and you should make sure that you are getting the best value for the service that you can prior to signing a retainer agreement.
It is also recommended to do a cost-benefit analysis after knowing the rates to determine if it is a good idea to continue seeking the attorneys advise. Generally, with such a large and complex transaction, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when something goes wrong with the sale.
Buying a home is an important and memorable event, and for most of us is the largest transaction that we will be a part of. Real estate agents, on balance, do a great job shepherding us through this complex process, but are limited in their ability to offer legal advice. Home mortgages generally stretch out between 15 and 30 years and it is important to involve a real estate attorney prior to signing the purchasing agreement or closing to ensure that you fully understand the transaction and are not potentially buying a problem that could stick with you for many years.
** Disclaimer - The information you obtain from this blog post is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. (firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-335-0713)