Why Hire a Real Estate Attorney After Your Divorce?


After getting divorced, you could very well find yourself in the position of buying a home on your own for the first time. Even if you have been through the process with your ex-spouse, there are things to know and be aware of – that can both help and hurt you – when becoming a first-time homeowner. Jessica and T.H. invited Jill Sodafsky, a real estate attorney based in New York, back on the Divorce etc… podcast to talk all about how to cover your ass when it comes to your first time buying a home (and full disclosure, Jill is also Jessica’s real estate attorney, so you know she’s amazing!) 

Where to Start

So as someone who knows absolutely nothing about real estate and wants to get started, how do you get there?

Jill compares the search process of finding the right real estate agent/attorney to finding the right doctor for you. You always want to make sure you talk to a few people. Some people will be the perfect fit for you, you’ll feel like you’ve met your perfect match, and some won’t align with you as well, and that’s okay. The bottom line is that it’s essential to put together a good team for yourself because you’re not supposed to know what you’re doing. That’s their job. And you need to be able to trust them with taking the lead.

“I think it’s never a bad idea to have word of mouth and talk to people who have gone through the process of just recently purchasing or selling,” Jill supports. Was their agent memorable? Did their attorney make it a smooth process? Are they people whose names they remember? 

“My job is to take away your headache and make the experience as streamlined and as enjoyable as possible,” explains Jill. 

Get Your Own Agent

“Sometimes as a buyer, I always say get your own agent, by the way, because in New York the buyers don’t pay the real estate agent’s commission, the sellers do,” Jill recommends. “There’s no reason under the sun why you shouldn’t have somebody that’s specifically there to protect you, to protect your rights, to look out for your best interest, and to defend you.”

If you’re looking to buy a home and find a place you’re interested in, the agent that represents the sellers is financially motivated to keep you from working with an agent (you would be considered a “direct buyer”) because they benefit from that dual commission. But you’ve got to remember that a) you get what you pay for and b) it can get a bit uncomfortable. This is why it’s so valuable to have an agent on your side, too, that you can trust to have your best interest at heart. “Their job is to protect you, the buyer,” emphasizes Jill.

Using an agent that is experienced with divorced buyers can also be extremely helpful. They may be aware of certain things that can help you qualify for the purchase that an inexperienced agent may not know. Same with a real estate lawyer.

Why Hire a Real Estate Lawyer?

For starters, some states have a real estate attorney requirement, so it’s important to check if you do or don’t need one. For example, in California, you don’t need a lawyer because the agent takes on that role, but in New York, you do need a real estate attorney. 

With a real estate lawyer, you protect yourself from any issues that may arise in the field of real estate law. “There are things you’re not going to understand, and you’re not supposed to,” says Jill. And even if you’re an attorney yourself, just because you are one doesn’t mean you know real estate law. It’s a niche, and there are a lot of complicated parts that even you may not be aware of. It’s always best to have someone on your team that knows what to look for to protect you, because though some contracts may look simple at first, the problems are the “what ifs” that can occur down the line. If you are going through this process while in the midst of getting divorced, it’s also crucial to have a lawyer that can ensure the contract protects you and your new soon-to-be home. Your lawyer can help you cover your ass so that your spouse won’t have any rights to the property, which is obviously essential in this circumstance.

You Get an Offer and it’s Accepted. Now What?

Once Jill steps into the picture, that doesn’t mean your broker’s out of the picture. The agent will submit the deal sheet and wait for Jill to go over the contract. Then it’s time to schedule your inspection of the house, checking that all appliances are in working order, looking for things like any broken outlets, any termite damage, or anything out of the ordinary, so you can work those items out.  

Once that’s settled, your attorney should go over everything with you – all of the nitty-gritty contractual details – and get you to a point where you’re going to wire the money for the down payment and sign a contract. Once that contract is countersigned by the seller, voila! You’re set to buy your new home. 

The purchase of a home is likely to be the largest purchase that you’ll ever make, so you have to be sure you are covering yourself from start to finish. As with the divorce process itself, the most important thing is to make sure that you are working with people who understand your needs and can protect you in any capacity.

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