What Does A Real Estate Lawyer Do? When Do You Need One? in Chicago


To become a real estate attorney, one must obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, pass the state bar exam, and, ideally, be knowledgeable in state and federal regulations governing real estate transactions. Many attorneys focus on a specific area of real estate law, gaining expertise through continuing education and experience.

Real estate lawyers, particularly those in Chicago, Illinois, must possess excellent communication and negotiation skills since part of the job is to collaborate with other professionals, such as real estate agents, mortgage lenders and opposing counsel. 

An executive signs a contract at a desk that also holds a model house, a Lady Justice statue, and a gavel.

What Does A Real Estate Attorney Do?

The attorney’s role will differ based on which party they are representing.

Who Does A Real Estate Attorney Represent?

A real estate attorney typically represents one of the parties in a real estate transaction, such as the buyer, seller, or mortgage lender. Their responsibilities differ depending on the party they represent.

A photo of a couple in a house in neutral colors. The woman is typing on a laptop balanced on one of several filing boxes; the man holds a puppy in the background.

What Does a Real Estate Attorney Do for a Buyer?

  1. Reviews the title search and/or commitment to ensure the seller has a clear and unencumbered title so that the buyer’s ownership is uncontested.
  2. Prepares a purchase contract outlining transaction terms and conditions.
  3. Reviews the note, mortgage and other loan documents to help the buyer understand their rights and obligations.
  4. Identifies any title issues or disputes and ensures that title is clear for the buyer.
  5. Amends standard contract forms to tailor them to the buyer’s needs.
  6. Negotiates with the seller’s attorney to ensure the best possible terms for the buyer.
  7. Represents the buyer at the real estate closing.
  8. Advises on zoning and land use regulations.
Seller awaiting for their home purchase

What Does a Real Estate Attorney Do for a Seller?

  1. Reviews and drafts real estate contracts, ensuring compliance and protection of the seller’s interests.
  2. Negotiates favorable contract terms for the seller.
  3. Provides guidance and advice on the sale process and contract details.
  4. Performs and/or reviews a title search to identify any issues to be resolved before closing.
  5. Resolves title issues, such as liens or ownership disputes.
  6. Drafts or reviews property deeds for accurate transfer of ownership.
  7. Handles transaction disputes and represents the seller’s interests.
  8. Drafts and reviews leases, assignments and covenants for landlord-sellers.
  9. Manages the closing process and issuance of title insurance policies.

What Does a Real Estate Lawyer Do for a Mortgage Lender?

  1. Drafts mortgage contracts outlining loan terms and conditions.
  2. Represents lenders in case of borrower defaults or foreclosures.
  3. Handles construction loans and related contracts.
  4. Advises on uncommon scenarios requiring specialized legal expertise.
  5. Serves as lender’s closing attorney, preparing and presenting necessary documents for signing.
A photo of one person indicating to another where to sign on a contract. In the background, a third person holds a model house next to keys on a clipboard.

Navigating Real Estate Laws for A Successful Real Estate Transaction

Real estate law encompasses a wide range of legal matters related to the ownership, use and transfer of property. 

In Chicago, Illinois, attorneys play a crucial role in navigating the complexities of real estate transactions, ensuring that their clients’ interests are protected and that all legal requirements are met.

The Attorney’s Responsibilities

Responsibilities include drafting and reviewing contracts, conducting title searches, resolving title defects, and obtaining title insurance. 

Attorneys also assist in negotiating contract terms, advising on zoning and land use issues, and addressing any disputes that may arise during the transaction process. 

Outside of closings, they also handle matters related to rental properties, property taxes, estate planning and land disputes. 

By providing expert guidance and support, attorneys help simplify the experience of buying or selling property, giving clients peace of mind and confidence in their transactions.

Two people shake hands over a desk with a contract, gavel and Scales of Justice.

What Are the Important Issues With Which Attorneys for Real Estate Can Help?

Property Taxes can be a confusing part of any sale. An attorney helps you understand and navigate the complexities, ensuring that you are paying the correct amount; receiving all appropriate exemptions or discounts; and avoiding any potential legal issues.

Estate planning is an essential aspect of law, and an attorney can help draft wills, trusts and other documents to ensure the proper transfer of property in the event of incapacity or death.

Zoning regulations can be complex and vary from one jurisdiction to another. An attorney helps you understand these regulations and ensures that your property and its use are in compliance with local zoning laws.

Property deeds are legal documents that establish ownership and transfer rights of real property. An attorney helps draft, review and record these documents to ensure a smooth and legally compliant transfer of property.

A title search is essential to ensuring a title is clear and ready for transfer of ownership. Attorneys conduct these searches, identify and resolve title defects, and obtain title insurance to protect the buyer from potential future claims against the property.

Additional Documents are often required in property related transactions. Attorneys draft, review and negotiate various legal documents related to property transactions, such as leases, subleases, covenants and easements.

Land disputes can be complex and contentious. A real estate attorney helps you navigate these disputes, whether they involve transactional matters, property boundaries, easements, or adverse possession claims.

Rental properties come with their own set of challenges. Real estate attorneys assist landlords and tenants in drafting and reviewing rental agreements, understanding their rights and responsibilities, and resolving disputes that may arise.

Making a Complex Situation Simpler – Residential property related transactions can be complicated, particularly when dealing with legal issues such as zoning, title, and property disputes. A good real estate attorney will help simplify these complex situations and provide guidance and advice to ensure a successful transaction.

When Do You Need A Real Estate Attorney?

An executive flips through a contract.

State Requirement

While certain states give you the option whether or not to hire a real estate attorney, several of them require it.

Both the buyer and seller are legally mandated to have legal representation during closing In Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina and West Virginia.

A lawyer’s involvement is required to oversee the title process in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming. 

While not legally required, legal counsel is commonly involved in the closing process in Illinois (including Chicago), New Jersey, New York and Ohio.

Lender Requirement

Some mortgage lenders may stipulate that you hire a real estate attorney as a prerequisite for obtaining a loan, particularly in states where attorney involvement in the closing process is customary.

Contractual Issues With The Purchase

If you come across any contractual issues during the purchase or sale of a property, a real estate attorney can help you understand and resolve these concerns. Issues might include disputes regarding contract terms, protection afforded by a particular provision, or an unclear division of responsibilities among the parties.

Should I hire a real estate attorney?

When You Should Hire a Real Estate Attorney

Hiring a real estate attorney is highly recommended in the following situations:

  • Purchase or sale of residential property
  • New construction
  • Zoning disputes
  • Title defects
  • Short sale or foreclosure purchase
  • Commercial real estate purchase
  • Sale of investment property
  • Selling property as an heir

If your sale or purchase entails unusual circumstances, such as a short sale, a complex zoning dispute, or a mixed-use building, it’s almost certain that you’ll require a lawyer.

When You Don’t Need to Hire a Real Estate Attorney

You might not need to hire an attorney if you commonly transact real estate and the transaction is straightforward. 

However, it’s crucial to thoroughly assess the potential risks and benefits before deciding to proceed without legal representation.

What Are the Risks of Not Using Real Estate Attorneys?

While choosing not to hire an attorney might seem like a cost-saving measure, it’s crucial to consider the potential risks associated with not having legal representation during a real estate transaction. 

Without an attorney, you may face the following risks:

Overlooking important legal issues – An attorney can help identify and address potential issues before they escalate. Without their expertise, you may overlook crucial details that could lead to future disputes or complications.

Misinterpreting complex legal documents – Property transactions involve numerous documents, and understanding their nuances, can be challenging for someone without legal training. A real estate attorney can help you decipher these documents and ensure that you fully comprehend their implications.

Failing to protect your interests during the transaction – Real estate attorneys work to protect their clients’ best interests throughout the transaction process. Without one, you may not be aware of certain aspects of the transaction that could negatively impact you, such as unfavorable contract terms or hidden clauses.

Encountering disputes or complications that could have been prevented with legal guidance – A real estate attorney can help prevent disputes and complications by ensuring that all aspects of the transaction are legally sound.

For instance, a Chicago homebuyer who opts not to hire a real estate attorney may inadvertently overlook a title defect, leading to a costly and time-consuming legal dispute after closing.

Money changes hands over a desk with a contract on it.

How Much Does A Real Estate Attorney Cost?

Generally, Chicago real estate lawyers charge either an hourly rate or a flat fee, depending on the type of service provided. 

Hourly rates can range from $200 to $500 per hour, with more experienced attorneys charging higher rates. The total cost for hourly services will depend on the number of hours the attorney spends on your case. It’s worth noting that some attorneys may require a retainer fee, which is an upfront payment that covers a portion of the anticipated legal fees.

On the other hand, flat fees are often charged for specific services, such as reviewing a purchase contract, conducting a title search, or handling the entire purchase or sale process. Flat fees can vary widely, with some discount lawyers charging as little as $250 for a real estate closing. A typical flat fee closing in Chicago ranges between $550 to $1000.

Adler & Herbach charges a flat fee of $750 per sale for both buyers and sellers. Thanks to our affiliation with the title company United Settlement Services, we’re able to offer 50% off seller-side title fees! Call today at (847) 318-3770, or contact us to learn more. 

How Can I Find A Real Estate Lawyer Near Me?

The key to finding a good attorney is to identify one who focuses exclusively on real estate law and has a strong reputation for delivering successful results. 

Here are some steps to do that:

  1. Seek Personal Recommendations: Ask friends, family, and colleagues who have recently bought or sold property in Chicago for referrals to lawyers with whom they worked and were satisfied.
  2. Consult Local Real Estate Professionals: Real estate agents, mortgage brokers and title company representatives often work closely with real estate lawyers and can suggest a reputable attorney with a strong track record.
  3. Utilize Online Resources: Use resources like Avvo and the Illinois State Bar Association’s website to identify lawyers near you who specialize in real estate law. Look for attorneys with positive client reviews and testimonials.
  4. Interview Potential Attorneys: Arrange consultations with lawyers on your shortlist to discuss your needs. Ask about their experience, fees and availability. Use this opportunity to assess their communication skills and responsiveness.
  5. Verify Credentials and Experience: Confirm the lawyer’s credentials, including their law degree, state bar license and any relevant certifications or memberships.
  6. Trust Your Instincts: Choose a lawyer you feel comfortable working with and who understands your needs. Trust your instincts to select the attorney who can provide the best representation for your real estate transaction.
The team at Adler & Herbach in Lincolnwood, Illinois.

The Bottom Line

Hiring a real estate attorney can be an invaluable investment in the successful completion of your real estate transaction. 

From ensuring a clear title to resolving disputes, a good real estate attorney can protect your interests and simplify a complex process. 

While not always required, hiring a real estate attorney in Chicago, or any other location, can provide you with peace of mind and help you navigate the legal intricacies of buying or selling property.

Uri Adler