Real estate law is defined as the area of law that covers buying, using and selling land and properties, and everything in between.
Mara Cushwa, partner and chair of the real estate practice at Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, and Mark Stockman, partner at Frantz Ward LLP, both in Cleveland, said the legal part can become complex.
“It can be anything from a home, or an apartment, to a hotel, an industrial complex or even a retail shopping center,” Cushwa noted. “It’s all kinds of things in real estate. As well as an orderly means of buying and selling and using real estate, and keeping good records of those transactions which are incredibly important to an organized society.”
Stockman said when it comes to buying real estate, it starts with negotiating the terms of that transaction.
“It’s creating the documents that cover that transaction and looking out for the best interests of your client no matter if they’re selling or financing, or just reviewing loan documents,” he said. “Almost every business works out of someplace, so there is real estate for everything. It’s looking out for the client’s best interests in those areas.”
Though someone who owns a home might not need a real estate lawyer, it could be a big help for those who buy and sell other property, Cushwa explained.
“Those transactions are governed by contracts,” she said. “The contracts that they’re entering into are governed by a whole body of law, and typically local and state law. If you’re not from the area or you’re not familiar with real estate transactions or contracts, it’s a little bit perilous to just sign the dotted line and assume you know what should happen.”
Both lawyers advised, trying to decipher real estate law without the help of a lawyer can be quite an undertaking. Stockman said individuals often get into situations they could have avoided.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “I deal with clients all the time that get into situations that could’ve been avoided if they connected with me from the start. It’s preventative. And it’s easier to avoid bad outcomes than fixing it in the end.”
Some of the issues that could arise range from lack of permits and improper zoning to tenant and landlord disagreements.
Cushwa explained that large, commercial transactions can be complicated.
“There’s a lot of diligence involved on behalf of the buyer,” she said. “So, sometimes, if you haven’t done your diligence or things weren’t as they seemed post-closing, there are issues that become litigation issues. My job as a transactional lawyer is to avoid those pitfalls.”
Helping clients comes down to just asking them questions, Stockman said, like what their goal is and what they’re trying to do within the transaction.
“It’s about bringing up unique views and looking at big-picture issues,” he explained. “There are so many potential risks that have almost no chance of happening, but it’s about being able to advise them on a bit of practicality. It’s about sussing out the real and important issues.”
Looking to the future of real estate law, Cushwa said she believes it will still have an important place in the legal community.
“Investments and financial times change, and a wise investor would have a balanced portfolio, but that tends to act differently in different markets and different times,” she said. “There are just tons of interesting ways to get involved with and consider real estate law. There are many ways that the average person intersects their lives with real estate.”
Stockman said, “Everything changes, but there is always going to be real estate. It’s not going away. People are always going to have to live somewhere. Even if businesses are digital, those servers have to live somewhere. So, no matter what, there is real estate.”