The Short List: Alisa Levin’s Ways For Agents To Effectively Work With Real Estate Counsel

by Peter Thomas Ricci


Alisa Levin is the founder of Levin Law, Ltd. in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood.

Every week, we ask a real estate professional for their Short List, a collection of tips and recommendations on an essential topic in real estate. This week, we talked with Alisa Levin, the founder of Levin Law, Ltd., for her thoughts on how agents can effectively work with real estate counsel during the buying and selling process.

5. Please keep in mind that you, as the agent, are typically the party selecting the appropriate contract and filling it out on behalf of the client. As an attorney, we inherit that contract and use it as a foundation for the transaction. If anything is incorrect, undesirable or ineffective in achieving the necessary goals of one or both of the parties, then the attorney’s job is harder, and sometimes impossible. Therefore, knowing and understanding what is typical versus what is merely possible, and what is likely, can go a very long way in terms of how contingencies are drafted.

For example, if you think five days is standard for attorney review and inspection, but you also know that someone will be on vacation or a business trip that same week then, inserting 10 days instead of five gets the parties further ahead of the game at the starting point when the contract is accepted, and takes the pressure off of counsel to get that deadline extended. If you are wondering, ask. Those questions are always welcome.

4. Since each party has a job to do, please keep in mind that of the things that counsel is obligated to do for his or her client, one aspect is that at no time is it the attorney’s job to keep the agent in the “loop.” That is a courtesy, and likely will happen organically on most files, but when agents demand copies of my correspondence, attorney review or other documents, or they bombard me with calls for updates, usually that results in the door being shut, along with my invitation to see them at closing.

We must all be cognizant of how many cooks there are in the communication kitchen, and being invited to the “CC” list is a privilege, not a right. If your client wants you to know something, they will share it.

3. When you represent a seller of any kind of real estate, it is immensely helpful if you collect up front whatever is needed from the seller. Whether it’s declarations/by-laws, a survey or keys to a multi-unit property, all of those must be delivered. It’s helpful to have what you need up front. Also, most counsel would appreciate a copy of the client’s deed and contact information for the mortgage company, and to know the water account number as “standard” for selling property.

All of that streamlines the process. The easiest way to tackle that is to tell the client up front what to collect. If everyone gets paid at closing, we ought not delay that day while we are searching for things that would have been better to get at inception.

2. Please do not oversell your property in the MLS listing by incorrectly describing the property. False advertising is a real thing; agents must keep in mind that the MLS is often the first thing people see about a property, and it forms the better part of expectations. If a property is not on a double lot and does not have a “huge amazing yard,” then you should not dare say that on the MLS. It can form the basis for a breach of your fiduciary duty to your client; it can be the foundation of a fraud claim against you and a managing broker; and it makes agents look bad when the property doesn’t deliver.

Use the art of language to be precise while attracting the best traffic. A thesaurus is excellent for that. Buy one. The agent I am now suing in court for a client (true story) ought to have thought of his “big sell” more carefully, because now that exaggerated image of a huge yard and double lot may impact his license. We must all be careful about our words on all real estate docs involved in a transaction. The deal goes beyond the contract – agents must never forget that.

1. Do not solicit, accept or recruit any client for “Dual Agency” (even if your broker suggests it). While Illinois law still allows dual agency, agents must accept the fact that parties on opposite sides of real estate transactions never have the same exact goals, loyalties, thought-processes or interests. While they may agree on getting a deal done, an agent should never confuse the clients’ mutual desire to get a deal done from the agent’s ethical obligation to suggest separate agency. It is impossible for you to have 100 percent loyalty to each side. Forget it. Yes, we understand the commission is double, and for most real estate attorneys who receive a mere $500 or so for a closing, we get that the money factor is attractive.

However, do not be swayed. Your fiduciary duty to a client requires you to be absolutely loyal, to provide absolute candor, and to be 100 percent ethical and competent in your duties. You cannot serve two competing principals at the same time and accomplish that. It should be outlawed, and just because it hasn’t been doesn’t mean it won’t be. Dual agency is impossible to achieve ethically, and any good attorney should school their client accordingly.

The founder of Levin Law, Ltd., a boutique firm in the heart of Ukrainian Village, Alisa Levin utilizes construction and real estate industry inside knowledge in all things, from transactional real estate, collections, commercial litigation, appellate litigation, landlord/tenant, commercial and residential real estate litigation, among others, to counsel and advise her clients on a wide variety of legal and organizational matters. She also serves as an adjunct and lecturing professor at the DePaul University College of Law, has authored a number of articles regarding trending and real estate topics. Her blog can be read at www.chicagolawsource.blogspot.com.

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