By Michael Gunderson
On a recent flight from Chicago to Phoenix, I found myself in what I like to call airline purgatory — sitting in a motionless plane grounded on the O’Hare tarmac. As I sat there cursing United Airlines, I struck up a conversation with a woman sitting next to me. I mentioned how I am a lawyer, and in the middle of our conversation, my cell phone began to vibrate furiously in my shirt pocket. I took the call, and spent the next 10 minutes calming down a hysterical client who was frantic about recent developments in her file.
After hanging up, my seatmate was aghast. Was that a murder defendant on the phone? Or perhaps someone in the midst of a custody battle? “No,” I told her. “First-time homebuyer.”
After finally taking off, we talked more about my work, as she was fascinated with the role that lawyers play in real estate transactions, especially in a seemingly simple residential purchase. In many states, especially those out west, lawyers aren’t always involved in real estate transactions, and are almost never involved in residential and undeveloped land transactions. Oftentimes title companies assume many of the duties that lawyers undertake in states such as Illinois, though lawyers often aren’t involved in transactions in various rural Illinois counties and sparsely populated areas of the state.
Seasoned real estate agents know the value of a good attorney in any real estate transaction. However, the care and attention that is required to bring purchasers (and sellers) through the process frequently goes much further than just reviewing the contract and attending the closing. Sometimes, it’s just simple hand holding and calm, rational explanation of terms and processes that make all the difference.
Frequently, I encounter issues that arise when a natural step in the transaction comes to pass, and either the Realtor is unavailable or an issue arises that had not come up before. Take, for example, a situation where the appraisal comes back at or near purchase price, and the client is absolutely crestfallen and feeling as though he/she had been taken for a ride. A simple five-minute speech from the attorney with regards to lending guidelines, regulations and how these transactions typically run can make all the difference in the world for these fragile souls.
It is important to remember that some homebuyers and sellers are hesitant to approach their Realtors with questions and concerns about certain issues. Some are afraid to concede that they aren’t familiar with something, or that they aren’t sure what exactly a specific term means or what a process entails. Worse still, some are concerned that if they show their Realtor how “green” they are with regards to the transaction, then the Realtor will somehow take advantage of them and the situation. Obviously, this is almost always the furthest thing from the truth; yet, it does cross the minds of both buyers and sellers. More often than not, these questions and concerns go to the one party to the transaction that is seen the least, and many times not seen until closing day — the attorney.
To most buyers and sellers, the attorney is almost like a mythical figure, heard but not seen, pushed away in some office, only to emerge in a blaze of less-than-glory at the closing table to present documents to sign and to furrow a brow while reading various forms. In reality, the attorney can be, and often is, so much more. For buyers and sellers concerned about sounding “stupid” to their agent, or “pestering” their mortgage professional, the questions will fall to the attorneys.
This presents the next question, who has your client selected as counsel? Will they be readily available to answer these questions that perhaps your client is afraid to ask you? Will the attorney take the time to explain the issues that are simple and mundane to the professionals, but complicated and unnerving to the client? If the attorney isn’t always available, do they have a support staff that can answer questions, or at least get to the bottom of issues?
Every agent needs to realize that we are all working together in the transaction to ensure the process goes smoothly and that the deal gets done. It’s easy to forget that clients will seek out information from those that they are most comfortable with, and many times this is their lawyer. Make sure your clients are working with someone who will give your clients the same level of respect and good service that you do.
Michael Gunderson is the principal of the Law Offices of Michael Gunderson, a law firm specializing in Real Estate. Gunderson is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He can be reached at 312.399.4089 or [email protected]
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