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Legal professionals say you should always have your own attorney present on closing day, and most of the real estate agents we spoke to for this story agreed.
But what’s the right choice for you? That depends on how comfortable you are sorting through and trying to understand the many documents involved in closing a mortgage loan.
“I believe that an attorney is always needed,” says Yael Ishakis, president of FM Home Loans in Brooklyn. “Homebuying is probably the biggest financial transaction of an average person’s life. They should be protected by an attorney trained in real estate law.”
What Is a Closing Attorney?
A closing attorney is a legal professional who oversees the transfer of ownership during the closing process of a real estate transaction.
“Closing attorney” is often interchangeable with “real estate attorney.” In general, they both refer to a professional who handles real estate law. However, “real estate attorney” applies to other contexts outside of purchasing property, such as property disputes, zoning issues, and land use regulations, while “closing attorney” applies to the particular role attorneys play on closing day.
What Do Closing Attorneys Do?
The role of a closing attorney is to ensure that a real estate transaction is legally sound and that the transfer of ownership is completed smoothly and in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations. To ensure this, closing agents examine titles, prepare and review closing documents, and handle the secure transfer of funds between the buyer and seller.
Closing attorneys can be especially helpful for homebuyers. Many buyers mistakenly think the title agent is there to protect them, but they’re not. Title agents are at the closing table to protect the interests of the bank or lender providing the mortgage.
Real estate attorney Rick Davis of Rick Davis Legal in Leawood, Kansas, said that attorneys provide a valuable service during closings. Two of the most vital duties closing attorneys can assist with are making sure buyers aren’t paying unnecessary fees and conducting a thorough title examination to identify any issues that might affect the property’s ownership.
“Most homebuyers do not deal with contracts on a regular basis, and a home sale often involves a significant amount of money,” Davis says. “Having an attorney to ensure the paperwork is correct or to help ensure the sale closes if there are issues can be very valuable to all parties.”
Attorneys are even more beneficial if there is something unusual about the real estate transaction, Davis says. Maybe there are existing tenants on the property that buyers are purchasing or maybe the sale involves a complicated financing structure. Maybe there’s even a pending title dispute involving the property.
Attorneys can be valuable for property sellers as well. Closing attorneys combing through paperwork and disputing title issues are equally important for sellers to ensure a smooth closing day.
Closing attorneys can also help sellers navigate unique circumstances.
What if the buyer gets nervous and wants to back out on closing day? What if a title search uncovers a lien against the property? What if a last-minute easement or boundary issue comes up? Attorneys can help resolve these issues, Davis said.
“At the end of the day, the common denominator for both the seller and the buyer are the reams of paper lobbed at both,” Marcia Clarke of M C Realty Consulting & Management in Brooklyn says. “Not having an attorney at the closing table puts them each at risk.”
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Who Hires the Closing Attorney?
Usually, buyers pay the fee charged by closing attorneys. The closing attorney fee varies widely depending on the state you are closing in, but sources quoted for this story say it typically ranges between $500 to $1,800. Closing attorney fees also vary depending on how complicated the transaction is.
Which States Are Attorney Closing States?
Depending on where you live, you won’t have any choice when it comes to hiring an attorney for closing. That’s because several states require an attorney to present at real estate closings.
As of 2024, the following states require a licensed real estate attorney to be involved in your closing process:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Some laws only require a real estate attorney to help prepare or file certain closing documents. Check your state law to see the extent to which a real estate attorney needs to be involved in your closing day meeting.
For transactions involving potential title issues, complex legal requirements, or parties seeking added peace of mind, the services of a closing attorney may prove indispensable.
Ultimately, you should carefully weigh the specific circumstances of your real estate transaction and consider consulting with your lender to determine whether the assistance of a closing attorney is necessary.