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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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January 26, 2002: Performing Real Estate Transactions on your Own

Q: I want to sell and to buy real estate for myself without paying a real estate commission or hiring an attorney. I know you have touched on this topic in other columns, but would you do a short, quick primer about that for me? (This is a composite question from a number of recent inquiries.)

A: After practicing all these years, and seeing all that realtors do, I certainly do not begrudge them their fees.

But if you have a buyer already, or feel comfortable that you can handle the marketing, then the first problem is coming up with a price. Start with the true value assessment of a piece of property from the County Assessor. Then find the selling prices for similar houses in your area. Try the Internet or go down and look at the public records. Or, see if a realtor would help without getting a listing. But the right selling price is the key and the very first step.

After a buyer is found, sign a binding contract. Forms can be purchased at several local stores that carry legal documents such as Brotherton's here in town.

Normally the buyer prepares the contract, but it is my experience that when a realtor is not involved, the buyer and seller sit down and fill out the form together. But I would strongly advise that an attorney go over the completed printed form contract to be certain that the right form was in fact used, all the blanks were properly filled out, and that ordinary additional points, not covered by the form, are inserted or at least considered.

Next, the seller is traditionally required to give "good" title so the buyer will not end up with any unanticipated problems. A local title company needs to be hired to issue a title policy, which is like title insurance, so that any title defects are disclosed before taking title (called exceptions) or so that the title company will reimburse the buyer from losses caused by problems which later pop up. However, without a realtor being involved, most title companies will require a letter from an attorney stating that the contract is binding before agreeing to be involved.

In picking a title company, select a company that will also do the "closing" (collect the numerical data involved, prepare the paper work, conduct the meeting where the documents are signed, distribute the money and pay the seller, taxes, assessments, etc., and record and/or distribute the paperwork.

The fee to do the closing ranges from maybe $100 to $200, which is usually split between the buyer and the seller. Using an attorney, or in some states an escrow agent, to do the closing can be far more expensive. But I would suggest that an attorney review the paperwork before the closing so in the rare case that a problem is present it can be caught.

In this scenario, you have eliminated a realtor and the need for an attorney, except for the three times previously mentioned: once when required by the title company to insure a binding contract and twice when prudence suggests using an attorney.

Finally, remember that you can use this process if you are either the buyer or the seller. If you try to "arrange" sales for others, then you need to be licensed.

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