KcolorLegal Matters: 

Buying and Selling Real Estate – The First Steps 

By Kathleen G. Moriarty, Peters & Moriarty, Attorneys and Counselors of Law

Ellicottville is a resort town with a significant real estate market. Buying or selling real property is a major investment that deserves serious consideration, so let’s start with the basics. On that note, even before thinking about retaining an attorney, you should consider hiring a real estate agent.

Do you need a real estate agent to buy or sell real estate?  

From the perspective of an attorney, I highly recommend working with a real estate agent.

Your agent will draft a complete and accurate contract. Agents are experienced in negotiating the terms of the contract, including purchase price, to reflect the parties’ wishes. For instance, for tax purposes, parties may wish to allocate some of the purchase price to personal property included in the sale, or one party may agree to cover certain costs typically covered by the other party. A poorly drafted contract can cause delays; the assistance of an agent is important in this respect.

Agents will also advise you of a reasonable closing date under the circumstances; for example, the process will likely take longer if a mortgage is involved than if it’s a cash deal. Your agent will refer home inspectors, contractors, and other professionals, and will be able to answer questions regarding septic and well testing, if necessary.

A good agent will look out for your best interest to ensure a fair sale and will be an invaluable asset throughout the process.

Do you need an attorney to buy or sell real estate?  

Likewise, retaining an attorney to help finalize the sale or purchase of real property is recommended. Once the contract is signed by both parties, it will be passed on to their attorneys for review. Under a standard contract, attorneys have three days to review it and advise the other attorney of any concerns.

Attorneys then exchange “attorney approval” letters to clarify outstanding issues or to approve the contract and move forward. A common concern during the attorney approval process is to define “furnishings” so that parties are clear which personal items are included and which are not. Or, if the buyer agrees to accept an existing survey, her attorney might make the contract subject to review of that survey. Similarly, an attorney might condition the contract to review of an easement agreement, if one exists; it may turn out that the agreement doesn’t afford the buyer all of the rights he anticipated.

Closing quickly is always important to our clients, especially at the beginning of the ski season! The closing process often requires several phone calls back and forth between attorneys’ offices, the Cattaraugus County Clerk’s Office, title search companies, surveyors, the County Health Department, etc., but an experienced real estate attorney will be armed with a solid support staff to get the paperwork taken care of quickly and painlessly. An efficient attorney also reviews title and issues title policies “in house” to facilitate an efficient closing.

Buying or selling a home is a significant financial decision, and sometimes a very emotional one. Parties often benefit when there is a buffer between them – a “voice of reason.” In this sense, working with a real estate agent and an attorney is a worthy investment, saving both money and heartache in the long run.