The 5 Times Every Homeowner Should Have a Lawyer on Call
Homeownership comes with a lot of rewards, including generous tax breaks, no pesky landlords and the biggest perk of them all: investing in and paying for something that's actually yours. But with these privileges come responsibility (we know, we know), like hiring a plumber if your pipes clog, or replacing major appliances when they break.
From disputes with neighbors to finding the right contractor for a home repair, you never know what thorny issues might pop up when you move into a new house, which can leave you with the feeling of flying without a safety net. Below, we rounded up all the times it's in a homeowner's best interest to have a lawyer on call.
When you're buying or selling a home.
Only a few states require a lawyer to be present for the closing, but even if it's not mandated where you live, having one available throughout the process is a good idea. Whether you're buying or selling, the transaction likely will be one of the most costly and complicated you'll ever conduct. And if you're purchasing a house in foreclosure, the process can be especially tricky.
In a typical selling or buying situation, negotiations are mediated through a real estate agent, but once you go into contract, a lawyer is essential to review the papers for vague or unclear clauses and answer any questions you have about the contract or homeowner association (HOA) rules. And if the unexpected occurs—the buyer tries to back out at the last minute or agreed-upon repairs aren't finished before the closing, for example—you'll certainly want legal representation.
When you're renovating.
Fact: Home renos aren't like what you see on TV. There's a lot more to it than just knocking down a few walls or laying new bathroom tile. In reality, you may need to work with an architect to come up with a plan, hire a contractor to execute it, and make sure the contractor complies with building codes and local laws. Different states have different licensing requirements for contractors, so be sure to ask about the credentials of anyone you plan to work with. And before you sign a contract, familiarize yourself with the right questions to ask. A lawyer can help you navigate the process, draft and review contracts and avoid liens (an unpaid contractor or subcontractor could file one on your home to try to collect payment).
When you and your neighbors aren't feeling so neighborly.
Unless you live on your own massive and isolated piece of land, chances are you have other people around you. It's true that many disputes are minor and easily resolved, like making sure your pal's car isn't parked in front of your neighbors' driveway every night, but others have the potential to escalate—fast. If you're fed up with noisy late-night parties or neighborhood kids continue to deface your mailbox (and you've already politely addressed the situation), getting your lawyer involved is a reasonable next step toward solving the problem.
When your home is your office.
Working from home and telecommuting have become more common thanks to the internet, email and video-chat technology. While that's great for a stay-in-pajamas-all-day lifestyle, it has other implications you should keep top of mind, including safety and privacy concerns. Can you file a workers' compensation claim if you're injured at home while on the job? If you're using a personal computer for work, does your employer have the right to search it? A lawyer can help you understand, and fight for, your rights.
When your homeowners association goes haywire.
First things first: no HOA is exactly alike. Some offer amenities like swimming pools and tennis courts, while others simply manage the upkeep of common areas. But when you purchase a condominium, townhouse or other property in a planned development, you're obligated to join that homeowners association, which also means you're held to their rules. If you paint your house an unapproved color or forget to pay your dues, you could be fined. And if you refuse to pay those fines? An HOA has the power to send your outstanding bill to a debt collector and, even worse, can foreclose on your property. Every HOA has different rules and levels of enforcement, so before you let a situation go from bad to worse, talk to a lawyer who can help you navigate any potential land mines.