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How To Explain Your Case to a Real Estate Attorney

Sometimes, a real estate transaction goes sour, and the parties wind up in court. A realtor may have failed to provide the service you wanted. You may feel that the realtor was more interested in profit than in your needs. Or maybe they were trying to represent both you and the other party in a way that led to unfairness. The seller may have mishandled your money or refused to return earnest money. They may have made misrepresentations or refused to close on the new home.

A lawyer can often help by explaining your options or writing letters. If the problem is serious enough, a lawyer can also help you sue to protect your rights. But they'll have all kinds of questions for you first.

Why a Lawyer Will Need Details From You

In order to do the best possible job on your behalf, your attorney needs your input and cooperation. At your first meeting with your attorney, you should be prepared to provide your:

  • Name and any former name(s)
  • Primary residence address, including county
  • Home/work telephone numbers
  • Facsimile (fax) number
  • E-mail address
  • Website and social media pages (if any)
  • Employer
  • Positions

This general background information about you can help your attorney create your case file. Because they will need to remain in touch with you about the case, it is very important for them to have your contact information and a way to maintain open communication with you.

Information About the Other Party

Your lawyer also needs to know all kinds of information about the potential defendants in your case. For example, if you were the buyer in a real estate transaction, the attorney would want to know who the homeowners, renters, and real estate agents are. Similarly, if you were on the selling side of a home purchase, your attorney would want to know about the homebuyers and their circumstances.

Here is a list of information your lawyer will probably want to know about the parties on the other side:

  • Name / former name(s)
  • Is your opponent a business?
  • Form of your opponent's business (corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, etc.)
  • Place of doing business
  • Is your opponent a realtor?
  • If your opponent is not a realtor, what do they do?
  • Address, including county
  • Length of time at that address
  • Work/home telephone numbers
  • Facsimile (fax) number
  • E-mail address
  • Website and social media pages (if any)
  • Related business(es)

Are You Aware of Any Litigation?

It's not uncommon for a dispute involving a current home to touch upon previous legal problems. Suppose that you're purchasing a rental property as an investment property for yourself. But now, there's an issue over the sale price of this next home. It turns out that the seller's property management company was previously involved in the hassle of an eviction case concerning the current renters.

The seller wants to negotiate a higher purchase price for the home sale, arguing that this is a seller's market. As you fast approach the closing date, you realize that the seller never resolved the lease agreement issues that continue to affect the property value. As with any endeavor in the housing market, real estate investing carries a lot of risk and maintenance costs. If there are existing lawsuits that may affect the market value of this property, it's better that you learn about them now so that you can negotiate a fair home price.

Accordingly, it's very important to ask the following:

  • Have you previously been involved in other litigation (court cases and lawsuits)?
  • Are you currently involved in any litigation?
  • Are you aware of any claims your opponent may have against you or others?
  • Has your opponent sued you? If so, explain and attach all relevant documents.

Home values can also be affected by other disputes that may be ongoing in court. For example, awareness of all litigation affecting the property can alert you to a potential foreclosure or other short-term risks involved with the purchase.

How To Approximate What You've Lost

Even when you're aware of all the potential pitfalls involved in your impending homeownership, it might still be very difficult to tell what exactly is at stake. Will you find yourself behind on mortgage payments because of the other party's behavior? Will you lose rental income or suffer damage to your credit score because the other party misrepresented something important to you?

To help you approximate your losses, it's best to provide the following information to your lawyer:

  • Describe the problem that occurred
  • Have you already purchased or sold the property at issue?
  • If so, how did you pay for it?
  • Are you still making payments? If not, at what stage are negotiations? Pre-closing? Offer made?
  • What has the problem cost you (e.g., additional financing needed, lost earnest money, cost of additional surveys, etc.)? Describe all expenditures and losses.
  • How much have you lost or expended?
  • How much have you budgeted for if you have to sue?
  • Are there written documents that relate to any agreements you have with your opponent?
  • Describe any listing agreements, purchase or escrow agreements, real estate agency agreements, etc.
  • Is there correspondence between you and your opponent?

While you're estimating your damages, it may be helpful to make a list of all the expenses associated with the property. That includes things like:

  • Your down payment
  • Home loan or mortgage payments to a lender
  • Property taxes
  • Closing costs and interest rates involved with your sale transaction
  • Maintenance and upkeep expenses
  • Home repairs and upgrades
  • Other expenses or monthly payments affecting your cash flow

What To Do if You Don't Know the Answer To Something

Not every answer to these questions might be obvious. Ultimately, you may need a brainstorming session to understand better what information to gather. It might be helpful to consider:

  • What outcome do you want from seeing the lawyer?
  • Do you want to force the sale to take place, for example, or do you only need to recover money?

These complex questions can be explored through a consultation with a real estate attorney.

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