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Real estate lawyer

Whether you’re buying, selling or refinancing your home, one of the most important people you’ll work with is your real estate lawyer or notary. No matter which process you’re going through, your lawyer’s overall responsibility is to make sure your paperwork is filed, your rights are protected and your transaction goes through. Here’s a breakdown of their other duties, and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about working with real estate lawyers.

What does a real estate lawyer do?

If you’re buying a home, you’ll want to start working with a real estate lawyer as soon as you’re ready to sign the Offer to Purchase. From thereafter, your lawyer’s job is to: conduct a title search, get title insurance in place, register the home in your name, draw up a Statement of Adjustments, and facilitate the financial transactions on closing day. Oh, and then they’ll give you the keys to your new home!

When you decide to sell your home, your real estate lawyer will do another title search on your home to make sure there are no defects. Your lawyer will also draft the deed of the home for the buyer, calculate any closing costs you have to pay and draft a Statement of Adjustments for you. On closing day, they’ll facilitate the financial transaction and hand you a cheque for what’s leftover, after paying off anything you owed on your mortgage, your real estate agent’s fees, legal fees, etc.

Finally, if you’re refinancing, your real estate lawyer will conduct yet another title search, to ensure it’s clear of defects; this protects both you and your lender. After that, your lawyer will register the new mortgage amount and facilitate the rest of the financial transaction. When you refinance, your lawyer drafts up a Trust Ledger Statement instead of a Statement of Adjustments; it’s essentially the same financial document, but your transaction is only with the bank – not another buyer or seller.


At what point in the process do I contact a real estate lawyer?

For buyers and sellers, you’ll want to call your real estate lawyer as soon as you’re ready to sign an Offer to Purchase. The offer is a legal document, so it’s important to have a lawyer review it, because the consequences of breaking the contract can be expensive. Your lawyer can explain all the legalese in plain terms. You’ll need to see your lawyer again on closing day, to finish the transaction.

If you’re refinancing, you only need to see your real estate lawyer once, to sign all the paperwork that is required for your new mortgage.


What should I look for in a real estate lawyer?

Here are a few things to look out for when choosing a real estate lawyer:

  • Specialty in real estate law
  • Competitive fees (low fees could mean they don’t have enough experience)
  • Experience with the type of property you’re looking at
  • Familiarity with the area

Don’t be afraid to ask lawyers about their experience, and even ask for references from other clients.


How much does it cost to hire a real estate lawyer?

Legal fees depend on how complicated the purchase transaction is, as well as the lawyer’s expertise. Most of the time, there will be a base fee that depends on the type of home (detached, condo, etc.) and then you’ll pay for disbursements (faxing, photocopying, etc.) and registration fees. The cost will also depend on whether you’re buying, selling or refinancing. Expect to pay around $1,500 in legal fees and disbursements when all is said and done.


What is the difference between legal fees and disbursements?

Disbursements are essentially the lawyer’s expenses incurred by working with you, and anything they have to pay ahead of time on your behalf; this can include faxing, photocopying, carrier fees and any searches the lawyer has to complete that come with a cost attached. Legal fees are what you pay for the lawyer’s time (either a flat fee or per-hour rate).


What is the difference between title registration and title insurance?

Title registration is simply the process of changing the title of the home from the seller’s name to yours. Title insurance, on the other hand, is intended to protect you from liability should an undetected title defect be found. For instance, if there is a violation of the municipal zoning bylaws, an existing work order, property taxes in arrears or encroachments on adjoining property, this could affect your title. Both title insurance fees and registration fees are paid for on closing day.

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