There’s a myth out there about what it takes to handle a real estate closing. Some people think that doing a real estate closing is an easy way of practicing law and that just any old lawyer can do it. I could go on all week about how completely wrong this is! The reality is that there are many moving parts behind the scenes of even the most seemingly ‘simple’ Illinois Real Estate transaction. Even a “good” attorney who does not regularly practice real estate law isn’t going to know what he or she doesn’t know. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have seen a non-real estate lawyer ‘blow’ a deal for their client. Recently, I represented a seller whose buyers were represented by a criminal lawyer who was a family friend and doing the closing for free. His first of many mistakes was misinterpretation of language in the contract which resulted in a missing an important deadline – a date by which he could have otherwise requested several thousand dollars worth of repairs to benefit the buyers. It was too late. This was not the only deadline that he missed. Once we, miraculously, made it to closing, it was clear that he didn’t know what the mortgage and other documents meant. The Realtor and I cringed in horror as he told the buyers to “just sign here, sign here, sign here- its standard stuff…”. I felt terrible for the poor young couple in front of me- for everything that he was not explaining to them which he should have been explaining. He didn’t know how to read the balance sheet and while I knew that all of the numbers were in order, had there been a mistake on the money, he would have never caught it- of that I am sure. He did such a lousy job that after he left, the buyers apologized to everyone else still left in the room (including me) for what a mess he made from day one. I have also been on the other side of transactions where I represent buyers – and the seller’s attorney doesn’t know what they are doing. I remember being at a closing where the sellers used a ‘friend’ who ‘dabbled’ in real estate closings and this attorney completely failed to have documents ready in time- because she didn’t know better. This resulted in a lengthy delay of several weeks for which the seller’s attorney ended up having to pay compensation (out of her own pocket!) to my buyers to the tune of a few thousand dollars -for hotel and other costs.
The contract is filled with requirements, deadlines, and nuances- which drive the whole transaction, as well as local customs which only a practicing real estate attorney is going to know about. You don’t want to be the person sitting at the closing table making apologies for your lawyer, or worse yet- the one who is out money or sitting on the other end of a lawsuit, because of a mistake that your non-real estate attorney made while trying to do you a “favor”.