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Don’t Represent Yourself

boston_legalOK, you can rant all you want about those greedy lawyers, but sometimes you need them.  And buying or selling an apartment is one of those times.  A reader of The Co-op Bible gave my book a great review (for which I am thankful), but suggested I add a chapter on being your own lawyer.  I respectfully disagree.

It’s like having a baby without a doctor – sort of.  If everything goes as planned, you’ll look like a genius.  But if it doesn’t, you’ll rue your imprudence as your apartment hangs in the balance.

What can go wrong?

You get a copy of the standard sales contract, which you actually read, crossing out the parts you think don’t apply, then send it off to your buyer, feeling pretty smug.  I’ve got news for you, the form contract is only the beginning.  There should be riders written to protect the specific rights of the parties – how does the real estate tax refund get apportioned, what is a fixture that stays in the apartment, and what is personal property that goes. I won’t bore you with more.  If your buyer doesn’t have a lawyer either, odds are the two of you will go along your merry unprotected way, fighting till closing — if there ever is one.

After the interview, board members are making noises about not accepting you into the clan.  They’ll take a threat to sue a lot more seriously if it comes from your lawyer than you.  And even more seriously if it comes from the seller’s lawyer because the board has a fiduciary duty to owners, but not to prospective purchasers.

You’re buying the apartment with your mom.  The stock certificate lists both of you as owners.  Bet you don’t know about those magic words: Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship.  But your lawyer should.  And they can make the difference between being able to sell without a problem upon your mom’s death, or having to slug through months of probate proceedings, which will cost a lot more in time and money than having hired a lawyer in the first place.

You’ve signed the contract to buy the apartment, and then get cold feet – it’s more than you can afford, you really hate the lobby, your boyfriend is moving to Siberia and you want to go with him.  Can you get out of the deal without losing your deposit?  Your lawyer will know about the delivery rule.  Do you?

A week before the closing, the buyer says he needs an extension – what’s a month or two?  You need to close so your kids can start school on time. Who wins and whether you get to keep the deposit if the deal falls through may depend on whether there is a Time is of the Essence Clause – something I suspect you wouldn’t think of on your own.

I’m cheap – frugal sounds nicer – so I’m all for saving money.  I won’t pay $500 for a pair of pants at Morgane le Fay, or anywhere else. I wait till they’re $95 at the sample sale. (So they’re last season’s, who cares?)  But an apartment isn’t a pair of pants.  It’s probably the single biggest item you’ll ever buy.  I’m a lawyer who knows about this stuff.  I’ve both bought and sold apartments, and always have had my own lawyer.  So should you. –  preferably a real one.

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