Reprinted from The Washington Post
By Katherine Salant
The Washington Post
A Fortune 500 company does not make decisions with bankrupting potential without seeking expert advice first. For most individuals, a new house has that potential, but they forgo advice in the belief that it’s unnecessary and too expensive. In fact, the advice can be invaluable and the cost far less than imagined. The short list of experts I would consult: a real estate attorney, a landscape architect, an arborist if your lot has trees and a private home inspector.
Why the attorney? The purchase of a new house obligates buyers financially for years. Getting a clear understanding of the sales contract is only prudent especially since almost all contracts are heavily weighted in favor of the writer, which in this case is the builder. Besides helping buyers understand what they’re getting into, an experienced real estate attorney can also evaluate the propriety of the contract.
“Is it reasonable or standard within the home building industry? The builder will say it is, but it may not be,” noted Alexandria attorney Beau Brincefield.
In addition to reviewing the contract, an attorney can also suggest changes that buyers can try to negotiate with the builder. If the builder refuses to entertain any of the attorney’s suggestions, at least buyers will know where they stand.
Buyers should consult with an attorney before signing the sales contract. If they find the builder’s sales agent urging them to sign it before this is possible, to get a special deal that includes a finished basement in the base price, for example, buyers should write in ‘This contract is subject to review and approval by purchaser’s attorney.” This will enable them to get the special deal on the basement and still be able to meet with an attorney and negotiate changes in the Contract, Brincefield said.
An attorney’s review of a production builder’s sales contract usually takes about an hour. In the Washington area, attorneys typically charge $150 to $250 for this, but hourly rates can range from $100 to $400. Some attorneys reduce their fees for first time buyers. If the builder is willing to make changes to his contract and the attorney does additional work the charge could run as much as $500.