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I've been told that in many locations in the US, you must retain an attorney to represent you in purchase of a single family residence. Or, alternately, perhaps you lose a great deal of your rights if you don't.

And presumably, this lawyer provides *materiali services or value beyond what you currently get from a Realtor, title insurer and escrow combo.

That comes as a surprise to me, having dealt in real estate in a variety of jurisdictions.

Where is this true?

(I do not count Realtors, title insurers and escrow firms as a lawyer.)

(Also, I am not asking if it's a good idea; every real estate attorney I've ever met asserts that it's a must-have, but I'm pretty sure they are speaking figuratively and just a little bit promotionally. Yes, I do use lawyers sometimes.)

(Also, I understand this is quite different than the practice in other countries.)

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    I'd really hope that the answer is "nowhere, but it's good to make sure you don't sign anything fishy". But I don't know. – a CVn Dec 18 '17 at 18:14
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    This is kind of nitpicky, but your first paragraph is a contradiction. "You must retain an attorney"... "or, you lose a great deal of your rights if you don't". Either you must have one or you have an option, not both. – TTT Dec 18 '17 at 20:19
  • I can't imagine a situation where you 'lose rights' if you don't have an attorney; I can see an attorney knowing certain things an average consumer might not, but I'm sure you have the same 'rights' in either case. Never heard of the issue you're describing, interested to hear if it's legitimate. All I know is that it's good practice to have either / both a realtor and attorney, as both will be working in your best interest. Also, having your own realtor usually doesn't cost you anything - I was told they (both realtors) are usually paid their fees by the seller. – schizoid04 Dec 18 '17 at 20:50
  • NOLO (without specifics) and other references says that certain states do require an attorney to handle the closing. I'm not sure I fully trust any of the websites that say this, thus no answer. – mkennedy Dec 18 '17 at 21:43
  • @TTT I tried to clear that up. Truth be told I'm not entirely sure what I'm even asking, as this was alleged by way of an edit to an answer of mine where I had said hiring a lawyer was unusual. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 18 '17 at 22:42
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I can't cite a reference, but I'm pretty sure that nowhere in the U.S. are you required to use a lawyer when purchasing a house. It is just a good practice, and the costs are generally very low compared to the cost of the house so it is a no-brainer. People often conflate "should" with "must."

To go even further, I'm hard pressed to think of any activity in the U.S. where you would be required to hire a lawyer. You don't need a lawyer to litigate in court and even criminal defendants are not required to have a lawyer.


EDIT: I think mkennedy has the better answer. I followed up on that for my own state (MA), and found a court case that states:

the closing or settlement of real property conveyances requires not only the presence but the substantive participation of an attorney on behalf of the mortgage lender, and that certain services connected with real property conveyances constituted the practice of law in Massachusetts.

Strictly speaking, the required lawyer represents the mortgage lender and not the buyer, but in practice the same lawyer represents both at closing, and the lender likely requires you to provide the lawyer.

If you were buying with cash, then you probably don't need a lawyer, but that's not applicable for most people.

  • In many cases, you are required to have an attorney present to defend you if you've been charged with a serious (Class A) misdemeanor / felony crime. This may vary from state to state. I know in Illinois there are cases where you're required to have an attorney present for some criminal cases. – schizoid04 Dec 18 '17 at 20:48
  • I guess what I'm looking for is cases where hiring a lawyer would be the normal thing and you'd be naked at closing without one, in my experience if you had a lawyer, the other guy would feel naked and very uncomfortable. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 18 '17 at 22:47
  • @Harper Lawyers will definitely not get naked at closing – schizoid04 Dec 18 '17 at 22:48
  • @schizoid04, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faretta_v._California – gaefan Dec 19 '17 at 4:15
  • I can't see why it would be a good idea to use a lawyer for an ordinary house purchase, any more than for buying a car, or FTM groceries. – jamesqf Dec 19 '17 at 20:09
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When I Google "What states require a lawyer at closing?", I get several websites or blog entries that identify several states with this requirement. For instance, this blog entry from Superior Notary Services lists these states as requiring a lawyer at the closing or handling at least some of the paperwork:

Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

Note that most of these states are original colony and/or east coast states. I had anecdotally heard of the lawyer requirement for east coast states previously.

Here's an interactive map (may take a while to load) from Seth Williams at REtipster.com.

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    I found the Superior Notary page by Google as well, and declined to use it for an answer as the only supporting link within suffers linkrot and it lists my home state while I am not personally aware of having required an attorney present at two house closings. The other link seems to be more well supported and describes my state as "attorney or title company" which means you don't need an attorney and at least one state in this list should not be presented as an answer to the OP's question. – user662852 Dec 19 '17 at 21:23
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People are conflating things:

In many cases there will be a lawyer at settlement and they will be part of the team from the settlement company. Two of the three parties (seller, buyer) may want a lawyer and they have that option. The third party (mortgage company) they will insist on the paperwork being supervised by a professional . They don't want a paperwork issue to develop 10 years later when the house is re-sold. The lawyer from the settlement company doesn't represent the buyer or the seller the protect the process.

The states that do require "attorney or title company" are requiring an attorney to represent the process. They will manage the paperwork and the filing of the paperwork with the various governments. They will make sure that all the required terms in the contracts are being fulfilled.

The parties of the transaction aren't required to even consult with a lawyer. The states aren't mandating that at all.

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