How to Hire a Real Estate Lawyer in New York City

The PropertyClub Team
Aug 26th 2020
Buying or selling an apartment in NYC is a significant transaction that should not be taken lightly. As such, it's not advisable to consider purchasing a co-op or a condo without consulting with a real estate lawyer first.

If you are considering purchasing an apartment in New York City, a good starting point is to ensure that you understand how the process works as well as the implications and differences between buying a co-op versus a condo. Your broker can explain this to you, but if you find yourself not fully understanding the fundamental differences, having any additional questions, or working without broker representation, you should discuss your options with your lawyer. An experienced NYC real estate attorney is an invaluable asset and will help ensure your purchase goes smoothly. 

What do Real Estate Lawyers Do in NYC?

Co-op and condo purchases can get tricky at times, and having a legal professional in your corner is essential. Between the bylaws, rules & regulations, and house rules, first-time buyers often find themselves very confused by the overwhelming amount of documents. A NYC real estate attorney can help make sense of everything and ensure your interests are protected. 

Additionally, apartments in New York City are sold “as is.” Therefore, it is up to you to do your homework and not solely rely on the seller’s team to convey the information that is most important to you. Remember, the seller’s team does not work for you, and your buyer broker may not always have the answers you need. In any event, it is essential to remember that your broker is not there to “act” as a lawyer; you should hire your own licensed lawyer to give legal advice throughout the entire buying (or selling) process. 

Are Real Estate Attorneys Required in New York City?

No, you’re not required to hire a real estate attorney when buying or selling real estate in NYC. Nonetheless, it’s highly recommended that you hire a lawyer as they will look out for your interests and protect your investment. In almost all transactions in the city, both the seller and buyer will have an attorney representing them.  

Should You Hire a NYC Real Estate Lawyer?

Here are a few reasons why you should hire a lawyer in NYC to buy an apartment.

  • Lawyers are (more or less) Required. In New York State, real estate contracts must be written by a party to the transaction or a lawyer. As such, almost 100% of the time, the parties in a New York City real estate transaction are represented by lawyers. Therefore, unless you are a licensed New York State attorney, it would be prudent to hire a lawyer to purchase or sell.

Additionally, you should avoid having the seller’s attorney draft the contract without having your attorney review it. If you rely solely on the seller’s lawyer to draft the sales contract, you run the risk of it being a one-sided contract. Lastly, most mortgage companies will typically not only expect but also require you to have your own lawyer before they agree to finance the transaction.

  • Lawyers protect your investment.

If you’re a SellerA seller is always advised to consult with a lawyer before signing a brokerage agreement to sell their property. If a seller does not carefully review the brokerage agreement, they may end up being liable for a commission, even if the property doesn’t sell. Additionally, the seller’s lawyer is usually responsible for the first draft of the sales contract.

If you’re a Buyer: If you’re buying a home in NYC, it’s vital to hire an attorney. Before you sign a contract for an apartment, your lawyer will perform due diligence. For starters, the lawyer will review 2-5 years of board meeting minutes. Reviewing the board minutes will clue the lawyer in on any issue going on in the building, such as a major roof repair that is needed or a recurring bed bug infestation. Lastly, as part of the due diligence process, the lawyer will also review financial statements, the building’s offering plan, and the bylaws (and any amendments). Overall, after performing due diligence, a lawyer can spot a “bad deal” and can advise you to pursue another property.

Once your attorney is satisfied with the due diligence, he will obtain a draft of the sales contract from the sellers’ lawyer. The two lawyers will then go on and negotiate the terms. Once your attorney is satisfied, he or she will instruct you to sign the contract and hand over the 10% down payment, which will be placed in an escrow account by the seller’s lawyer.

  • Your lawyer will help close the transaction. Once you have signed the contract and paid the down payment, your lawyer will begin preparing for closing. If purchasing a condo or single-family home, your lawyer will order a title report to identify any issues that the seller must resolve before closing, such as liens or property violations. This is also the point where an inspection will occur. Based upon the results of the inspection, coupled with the title report, your lawyer will negotiate repairs and any other terms that need to be amended before closing. 

Additionally, your attorney will be around to assist you with information and documents that your lender may request as part of your mortgage application as well as get you a good faith estimate of your closing costs.

  • You will have an advocate at closing. A “Closing” is a transaction where the title of a property is transferred from a seller to a buyer. In NYC, the closing typically takes about three hours to complete. The seller, buyer, attorney for all the parties, the managing agent for the coop, the mortgage lender, and the real estate agents are all typically present at the closing. At the closing, your lawyer will be there to walk you through the transaction. They will also be there to ensure the accuracy of all the closing documents, such as the deed, transfer tax returns, and mortgage documents, and again double-check the payment amounts. Lastly, your lawyer will be there just in case something goes wrong or any of the documents are inaccurate. 

NYC Real Estate Attorney Fees

In terms of pricing, you generally have two options, either paying a flat fee or hourly. The majority of NYC real estate lawyers will charge a flat fee of around $2,000-$3,000, but some will charge more (up to around $5,000), especially for more complex transactions or buying in a new development. 

You can also find some discount attorneys who advertise flat-fee pricing under $1,000, but as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” Most of these attorneys will cut corners or are located outside of Manhattan and have less experience performing due diligence on NYC condo and co-op buildings. 

Even though lawyers can be expensive in New York City, the expense is well worth it because you are protecting one of the most significant investments that you will make.

Do You Need A Lawyer If You Have A Buyer’s Agent?

For starters, your agent or broker is not a lawyer. Unfortunately, some buyers rely solely on the legal expertise of their broker to purchase an apartment. While most brokers are incredibly knowledgeable, they cannot replace the legal guidance of a licensed attorney. We would be leery of any agent or broker engaging in the “unauthorized practice of law” and jeopardizing their license by giving legal advice. As such, it's still highly recommended that you higher a lawyer to represent you. 

If you don't have an attorney but are working with an agent, you can always ask your agent for a recommendation. 

You Can Get A Free Consultation With a NYC Real Estate Attorney

If you’re still not sure you want to hire a lawyer or simply want to ask a few questions, there are plenty of New York City attorneys who offer a free consultation.