I will never forget the day in law school when my Property professor, John Mogk, brought a large stuffed monkey to class. Professor Mogk brought the monkey to illustrate an important point about real estate closings: retaining an attorney just to attend a closing is about as effective as bringing a stuffed monkey with you. By the time a closing occurs, most of the negotiations and due diligence (or opportunity to negotiate or conduct due diligence) have occurred, and a purchase agreement has been signed. Sure, the parties sign additional documents at closing, but many are not subject to negotiation. That is not to say that attorneys cannot assist at closing (they can), only that the best time to retain an attorney is before a purchase agreement is signed. Once a purchase agreement is signed, you may not be able to back out of the deal without consequence merely because you didn’t read or understand the agreement.
Despite what you may have heard, there is no one-size-fits-all purchase agreement. Every deal is different. Brokers may provide parties with forms, but that does not mean you have to use the form or that you cannot edit or add to the form. While purchase price is obviously an important term, there are many other terms that can have a significant impact on the transaction, including the type of deed, payment and proration of taxes, financing contingencies, title insurance, inspection rights and contingencies, surveys, timing provisions, possession, payment of closings costs, alternative dispute resolution provisions, and many other terms. An attorney can help you consider these issues and draft an agreement that’s specifically catered towards your needs. Therefore, if you’re considering hiring an attorney to assist with a real estate transaction, do so before you sign the purchase agreement (while reserving your right to bring a stuffed monkey to the closing).
The above is for informational purposes only. The appropriate or best strategy will depend on the facts of each case. Thus, readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional advice.