Real Estate law is what provides the legal guidelines and protections for those involved in the sale and purchase of real property. Real property refers to property that is affixed to the land, or a piece of land itself, as opposed to personal property, which is property that is typically easily movable.
These guidelines and protections apply to:
- Land owners;
- Real estate agents; and
During any real estate transaction, it is important that the sales and purchase documents are well written. In fact, if the sale and purchase documents are not written, then they may violate the statute of frauds. Thus, writing contracts is done in order to avoid problems and delays later on, as litigation could result if the parties to the transaction experience a dispute. Real Estate litigation commonly involves zoning, construction defects, homeowners associations, and/or boundary disputes.
Additionally, real estate laws vary at the state and federal levels. State real estate law regulates commercial and residential real property transactions, as well as landlord-tenant relationships. As such, the specifics of these laws vary from state to state. Federal law protections exist for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), and for environmental violations.
Once again, real estate disputes are legal conflicts which involve real property. These types of disputes frequently involve properties that are worth large amounts of money, although real estate disputes can arise from property valued at any amount. Many of these disputes can take a considerable amount of time to be resolved, and may involve many financial and court resources. As such, it is a common practice for people involved in a real estate dispute to seek alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as arbitration or mediation.
An example of this would be how many real estate disputes involve a breach of contract regarding the sale of property. In such cases, both real estate laws and contract remedies may apply. However, this makes the situation more complex, and requires a good understanding of both state and federal laws in order to be best prepared for a real estate case.
What Documentation and Questions Should I Compile Before I Meet with My Real Estate Attorney?
You may decide to hire a real estate attorney to help you resolve your real estate dispute. The first step would be to arrange a legal consultation. This is an initial meeting with an attorney that occurs before you decide whether to hire that attorney to represent you in your real estate dispute. The attorney will also use the initial legal consultation to determine if they can legally and competently represent you.
For example, if the attorney has met with the opposing party or represented them in a prior matter, they may be barred from representing you due to a conflict of interest. A legal consultation is also an opportunity to get to know each other, exchange information, and ask questions before committing to a lawyer-client relationship.
Before meeting with your real estate attorney, verify whether the consultation will be free of charge. Generally speaking, legal consultations are free. Additionally, you should prepare for the consultation by gathering any documentation you have related to your real estate dispute. It is important that you bring every document you have for the attorney to review; this is because the attorney will be able to properly determine which documents are relevant, and which are not.
The exact documentation that you should bring to your consultation will vary greatly, depending on the case. In general, some examples of documents that you should bring include any of the following:
- If your real estate dispute stems from a contract dispute, you should bring copies of the contract as well as any supplemental documents explaining the contract;
- Any police or accident report created as a result of the incident you were involved in;
- A copy of the property deed, or any other documents relating to the property, such as an oil and gas lease; and/or
- Other documents which provide evidence of damages incurred, such as medical records or expenses, and/or any warranties or letters created by the opposing party.
In terms of what will be discussed during the initial consultation, this again varies based on the nature of the dispute. However, there are some general topics that will be discussed no matter the legal issue at hand. An initial consultation should always include a discussion of the fees that an attorney may charge and the legal facts and circumstances of your case. You should discuss an attorney’s fee arrangement during the consultation, prior to retaining them, especially if cost is a large determining factor for you.
Further, as noted above, an initial consultation will include a discussion of the legal facts, as well as your legal claims. When telling the attorney about your particular case, it is absolutely imperative that you are honest. Lying about the facts or circumstances surrounding your case, even when those facts do not reflect well on you, may lead to serious legal consequences. Another reason to be absolutely honest during a legal consultation is that they will always be confidential. It is important to note that an initial legal consultation does not mean that the attorney is officially representing you or has taken on your case, as a representation agreement will be needed to establish that relationship. However, everything communicated with an attorney during a consultation will remain privileged and confidential, as if a quasi attorney-client privilege had been established.
Finally, you should take this time to ask any questions you may have, to get the most out of your time with the attorney. In addition to any case-specific questions, some things to ask during an initial consultation include:
- The attorney’s law education history and board certification;
- The attorney’s legal experience, especially regarding cases similar to yours;
- The outcome of cases the attorney has handled that are related to your case;
- Whether any other person, such as a law firm partner or legal assistants, will also be working and billing on your case; and
- What sort of legal remedies the attorney is looking for.
What Makes a Real Estate Law Case Strong? What Makes it Weak?
Although it may seem obvious the legal circumstances and facts of the case, along with the evidence to support the case, are what determines whether a case has a strong chance at a successful outcome or a weak chance.
For example, a case that has legal facts that meet the burden for proving a claim under the law are more likely to be successful than a case where one of the legal elements may be missing. A weak real estate case will often be a case where there was not a written contract, and the case is trying to be made simply on the spoken words of one of the parties.
When Do I Absolutely Need a Real Estate Attorney?
If you are facing any sort of real estate dispute, whether it involves a contract dispute or something else, you should consult with a local real estate attorney as soon as possible. Real estate disputes often involve many different branches of law, as well as federal and state laws.
An experienced and local real estate attorney would be best suited to understanding and explaining your state’s real estate laws, and how those laws may influence your legal claim(s). Meeting with an attorney will be especially important in terms of remedies and damages awards that may be available to you, as some states place award limits.
A real estate attorney will be able to review the facts of your case, as well as any documents, to determine how best to move forward. An attorney will also help you collect additional evidence through the legal discovery process. Finally, they can also represent you in a court of law, as needed.