The spring housing market is heating up! You’ve set appointments with a few realtors, you’re assessing companies that can help with your move, and you’ve begun researching mortgage brokers – all to find the one you like and that you want to work with most.
And then you pick a lawyer… How exactly do you do this? The size of the gavel on the firm’s logo, or how many different people are listed in the name?
While the same professional responsibilities bind all lawyers, there can be significant differences in how firms handle every aspect of their real estate practice. Ultimately, you should choose a firm that is the right fit for you – just like you do when selecting a realtor, moving professionals, or a mortgage broker.
We’ve put together a list of 5 important questions to ask when choosing a Real Estate Law Firm. When you have good information to go on, the process of choosing should be much more straightforward for you. Ask these question to help take away some of the mystery about what matters when choosing the law firm that will walk alongside you in this adventure!
Question 1: Will you answer the phone when I call?
The first question you need to ask is: Is my lawyer’s office hard to get a hold of? Having a legal team in place to ensure that your time-sensitive transaction is dealt with promptly is not just a huge advantage in this busy real estate market; it’s a necessity. Plus, if responsiveness is an issue initially, you can presumably expect it to be an ongoing issue as the spring and summer markets gets busier and busier.
Question 2: Will you answer my questions when I have them?
One of the things we hear a lot from our clients is how grateful they are that we’ve taken the time to explain what is happening and to answer all of their questions. It’s great to get positive feedback, but we happen to think that this is one of the most important parts of our job; it is a basic professional responsibility for a lawyer who practices Real Estate Law to communicate fully and clearly with their client.
If you have questions, you should be able to expect to receive a prompt and thorough answer. There are no dumb questions. We are always mindful of the fact that while we see hundreds of transactions a year, clients buy or sell their homes only a handful of times over their lives. You need information to help you make decisions and to proceed with confidence. Check in advance how and when you’ll get updates on your file, and whether there is someone you can speak to if you have questions.
Question 3: Can I have an accurate written quote in advance?
We’re going to let you in on a secret: Your lawyer should be able to give you an accurate quote for your real estate transaction well in advance of your closing date. Not only do we offer written quotes, if anything comes up that fall outside the scope of the regular transaction, you’re the first call we make. There are no surprises when you see your final bill.
Over the years, we’ve heard that some law firms don’t like to put their quotes in writing for various reasons, including apprehension that other law firms might see it – but we don’t mind! We’re entirely confident in our one-of-a-kind, award-winning services and approach to real estate law.
Most importantly: transparency like this is how we build trust with our clients. If our quotes help other lawyers fine-tune their process, then that’s just fine with us.
Question 4: Will I get to meet with my lawyer?
This might seem like a strange question, but it isn’t. You should have the opportunity to meet your lawyer, and there should be evidence of their involvement in your transaction. The Law Society of Ontario governs lawyers in our province and they have set a high bar for a lawyer’s professional responsibility in real estate transactions. (And well they should!) That means your lawyer should be actively involved in managing your file, and you should be meeting with a lawyer who is insured to practice real estate when you sign your closing documents. It’s OK to ask if your signing appointment will be with your lawyer – the answer should be ‘yes.’
Bonus Tip: the best time to involve your lawyer is BEFORE you make an offer on a house you want to purchase. If your firm is chosen in advance of you signing your agreement, your realtor and lawyer can work together to ensure you’re fully protected in your offer. Plus, this way, there is no lag between an accepted offer and work beginning on your file.
Question 5: Will you be able to handle my deal if things go sideways?
We think that experience matters when things don’t go as planned, and so does the scope of your lawyer’s practice.
What do we mean when we say scope? It’s pretty simple. We’re talking about the different areas of law in which your chosen lawyer practices. How much of their practice is devoted to other areas of law? Is it possible they’ll be out of the office and in court on your closing day? Does the firm have experience dealing with all kinds of real estate, or do they mostly work in simple residential transactions?
Our firm only practices in three areas of law: Real Estate, Business and Corporate, and Wills and Estates. We want to be experts in these fields and refer out other files. We believe this is better for our clients, and it allows our team to hone our skills in these specific practice areas.
A real estate lawyer at Pathway Law practices real estate law every day. They do it because they love this area of law, and as a result, they really know their stuff. Our team has seen just about everything, and they know how to deal with issues as they arise.
Bonus Question: Ask yourself, is getting the cheapest price really what I need?
We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss price in this article because it’s often one of the first questions we hear when someone calls our office looking for a lawyer. The thing is, we can’t have a conversation about price without discussing value.
We’ll start with this: we are not the cheapest option.
But we’re also not the most expensive, and not by a long shot.
If you look, you can find law firms that advertise bargain pricing – but it could come at a cost in service and capability that ultimately gets passed back to you. We don’t compete on price; instead, we compete on value.
When the real estate market started heating up a few years ago, we realized it was impossible to deliver our clients the value we wanted to give if we became a ‘transaction factory.’ And so, we took a different path.
A closing may very well go off without a hitch – it’s what we ALL always want … but the reality is, sometimes closings that start out ‘simple’ are decidedly not. And that’s when the bargain model can become precarious. When it’s ‘all hands on deck’ to salvage a transaction, you want a firm that isn’t overloaded with volume, one that’s experienced and focused, and one that has a dedicated team that is familiar with you and your transaction.
Questions are your best strategy!
Well, there you have it – 5 important questions to ask when choosing a Real Estate Law Firm. If you take anything away from reading this article, we hope it’s this: You need to ask questions. You need to be comfortable. You need to be informed, and you need to feel like you have open lines of communication with your law firm. Your transaction is a big deal, and knowing the answers to these questions will help you feel confident, and give you peace of mind as you get ready for your closing day.