With the housing market in the doldrums, it may seem like an odd time to offer advice on buying a home, yet people continue to purchase a home for reasons that range from a job relocation to wanting to change neighborhoods.

Whatever your reason, the purchase of a home will probably be the largest single investment of your life. To protect that investment, it is important that you work with knowledgeable professionals at each stage of the buying process.

As you shop for your home, you should also be assembling your "team" of real estate professionals. Each member of your real estate team - your real estate attorney, real estate agent, home inspector, and lender has a vital role to play in the process. Selecting them with care and consideration at the outset of the process will keep you from making rushed decisions as you start to look for your new home.

In recent years, the process of buying a home has become increasingly complex. Retaining a qualified, competent real estate attorney at the outset can save you costly mistakes throughout the process. Ideally, you should bring your real estate attorney on board before you make a purchase, and should consult with him or her before you sign any document.

At the very least, if you feel you must submit an offer to purchase before your attorney has the opportunity to draft or review the offer, be sure the offer provides an attorney approval/modification contingency provision granting your attorney a reasonable period of time (several business days) to review and possibly revise the terms of the offer. Because any changes proposed during the attorney approval period may be deemed counter-offers having possible adverse legal consequences, it is best to consult your attorney before you submit an offer.

The attorney approval contingency may also be limited by the offer to matters other than dates, purchase price, or other specified matters, thus limiting your attorney's ability to assist you.

Buyers beware: if you sign a contract which does not contain an attorney review contingency, you may be obligated to proceed with the purchase regardless of your ability to obtain financing, the condition of the property, or any other valid reason to terminate the contract.

If you do not know a competent, experienced real estate attorney, ask your friends and colleagues to recommend an attorney with whom they have had a satisfactory experience in a real estate matter. You may also contact the Illinois State Bar Association's lawyer finder service at www.isbalawyers.com, or call 1-800-252-8908 for the names of several real estate attorneys in your area.

When you contact the attorney, be sure to inquire about the fee arrangement and ask questions about that attorney's experience in handling real estate matters.

Your real estate attorney will be the glue that holds the complex process together. Among other things, your attorney will:

  • Provide an overview of the process and the attorney's role in that process;

  • Draft, review, explain and/or negotiate your contract to purchase;

  • Discuss timing and possession issues, including matters relating to your current lease if you are renting;

  • Communicate and negotiate repair issues related by your home inspector;

  • Examine the title commitment and survey to determine that you are purchasing the property contracted for, without encumbrances or title defects you have not agreed to accept;

  • Explain contract contingencies, if any, and monitor deadlines to make sure those contingencies are met;

  • Explain mortgage financing options;

  • Verify and explain tax pro-rations and other closing figures;

  • Attend the closing to ensure compliance with the contract and to review the loan documents to verify compliance with your loan agreement; and

  • After the closing, review the recorded deed and the final title insurance policy for accuracy.

    Much of your attorney's work will be behind the scenes, arranging the closing and monitoring the progress of the other members of your real estate team to ensure that the purchase progresses as well as possible.

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