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PropertyGuys.com has built a network of real estate lawyers across the country – experts they could trust and who would be willing to travel to clients and answer questions. (Nina Linton For The Globe and Mail)
PropertyGuys.com has built a network of real estate lawyers across the country – experts they could trust and who would be willing to travel to clients and answer questions. (Nina Linton For The Globe and Mail)

Real estate

Buying or selling a home? Why a good real estate lawyer is crucial Add to ...

While the team at PropertyGuys.com had long recommended that their clients across Canada hire lawyers toward the end of their home-selling deals, they decided a year ago to offer a package that included experienced counsel throughout the process.

Because their service forgoes real estate agents, the Moncton-based company wanted to provide access to lawyers who would be ready to help clients anytime. So the company has built a network of specialists across the country – lawyers they could trust and who would be willing to travel to clients and answer any question they might have.

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The company has since made the service available to home buyers, too. When it comes to getting answers about home sales, “you want to ask someone who’s uniquely qualified to answer those questions,” says Walter Melanson, PropertyGuys’s director of partnerships.

Finding the right real estate lawyer is a crucial part of buying or selling a home. These transactions are among the biggest in a person’s lifetime, and they can be harrowing for first-time buyers. Even if you have another lawyer you regularly work with, experts across the industry stress that it’s crucial to find an experienced real estate lawyer who is the right fit for your purchase.

While it’s possible to bring in a real-estate lawyer to handle just the tail end of a deal – for buyers, that might include performing the title search and registering the deed – they can also help throughout the process, reviewing paperwork and protecting clients’ interests as issues come up. That means finding the right expert, and not settling for a lawyer you happen to know or who is also working for the other side of the sale.

“If you’re going to do a multiple-hundred-thousand-dollar transaction, then you have to have a lawyer in your corner who’s working just for you, not both sides, and also is an expert in real estate,” says Don Campbell, a best-selling real estate author and market analyst from Vancouver.

That means looking beyond your family lawyer or a friend to do the job for you. “Just because your brother-in-law is a newly graduated lawyer doesn’t mean he’s the best choice,” Mr. Campbell says. “It makes it difficult at Thanksgiving, but believe me.”

Look for a lawyer who concentrates – some industry experts suggest at least 90 per cent – on real estate transactions. Experience, too, should come into play, including the number of transactions and the amount of time the lawyer or firm has spent on real estate law.

It’s also important to compare costs, not necessarily to find a competitive rate but to be aware of the total fee to avoid surprises later. In many places, the cost of service may vary only between $50 and $150.

“I wouldn’t choose on price, but I want to know in advance so I’m not caught in the end,” Mr. Campbell says.

Choosing the lawyer with the lowest fee may mean receiving cookie-cutter services that won’t work for your situation, says Calgary real estate agent Cody Battershill. “You always get what you pay for,” he says.

Some home buyers “may have just negotiated terms up or down by thousands in a single penstroke, then start to worry about a $50 difference for a lawyer,” says Darren Richards, a partner with the Calgary firm Richards Hunter Toogood who focuses on real estate law. “That’s not what you should necessarily look for as a first priority.”

When seeking a lawyer to handle your transaction, Mr. Richards says, “a first time home buyer would benefit from a team approach.” In other words, a lawyer recommended by your real estate agent or mortgage broker will allow for a smoother process, as they’ve already worked together.

Mr. Battershill has three lawyers he consistently recommends, and he explains their individual benefits so clients so they can make an informed decision. “Eighty per cent of the time, my clients choose one of those three,” he says. “They always come through and provide a superior level of service and knowledge.”

That’s why PropertyGuys took such care to pick lawyers in each province for its LegalPro package, Mr. Melanson says. Not only are they well-versed in the private-sale world that PropertyGuys specializes in, but they’ve built a track record of delivering for clients over the course of the sale. That kind of partnership, he says, is crucial to the experience.

“If we select bad [lawyers], you’re going to have a bad experience,” he says. “If you love the lawyer we connect you with, you’ll love us.”

Follow on Twitter: @joshokane

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