Summer Buying and Selling
People often wonder whether they really need a real estate agent and/or lawyer to navigate these waters. I say yes on both counts. Sure, a selling agent will cost about 5% of your price these days, but a good one will help you set that price correctly and then show the property to greatest advantage. That alone could be worth the commission, but (s)he will also make sure anyone who wanders through your door is actually qualified to buy it; they'll help negotiate the terms of the deal once an offer is made; and they'll handle the dozens of details that always come up prior to payday.
If you're a buyer, though, keep in mind that the nice agent who drives you
all over creation to find your dream home is really the seller's agent; that is, unless you hire an agent of your own. There are more and more buyer's agents these days, and I highly recommend you go this route if you want someone looking out solely for your interests. After all, buying a house is indeed the largest purchase most of us will make, and we routinely get professional help with decisions that don't count nearly as much.
What I totally recommend against, however, is having a "dual agent", one who theoretically is representing both parties. Can you say "conflict of interest"? There's a reason why lawyers can't represent both sides in these (or any other) transactions, and the same should go for real estate agents. What you get is someone who really isn't an effective advocate for either party - and so not worth the commission - no matter how gracefully the double agent tries to straddle that barbed wire fence. Just my opinion, but there it is.
As for lawyers, one who knows his/her way around these deals can make sure the purchase and sale agreement you sign is going to work for you. So, is the deposit unreasonably high or low; are there issues with the deed that might be objectionable (rights of way, poor legal description); are the additional provisions you want to include, say, about work to be done prior to closing, or about the seller staying on for a month or so, going to protect your interests?
Many buyers forgo a lawyer these days, figuring the title insurance company can do everything they need. Title companies do indeed fulfill a critical role in making sure all the liens are paid off and the documents are properly executed at closing - and I recommend title insurance for every buyer - but they don't generally deal with issues of substance like the ones I just mentioned from the lawyer's bailiwick. For example, the title company will make sure there's no outstanding mortgage or tax lien and that all the right fees are being paid, but they won't care about whether someone else has the right to use your driveway or to put his septic system on your side of the line - or about how to protect you if the seller wants to stay on after the closing.
Knowing the role of each person involved in a real estate transaction can help you decide whose help you need - and getting the right help can make all the difference when you sit down at the closing.