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How to Get More Out of Your Lawyer When You Purchase Property

how to get more out of your lawyer when your purchase property

Joanne Poh

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Whenever you tell people you’re going to speak to your lawyer, they immediately assume you’re going to jail or getting sued. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

So when you purchase a property, you should probably be glad the goal of your visit to your lawyer isn’t to avoid jail time. Even so, it’s not all fun and games—legal fees for a simple property purchase can range from $1,500 to over $5,000.

Property transactions are usually charged on a flat fee basis. This means you pay the same amount no matter how much you try to squeeze out of your lawyer. Here are some tips on getting the biggest bang for your buck.

1. Ask as many questions as you can

Since your lawyer isn’t going to charge you for asking questions, going nuts with your queries will make him hate you but won’t cost you an extra cent.

Wondering how much you’ll really end up paying for the property? Not sure when you need to fork out more cash? Clueless as to what your mortgage letter of offer is actually saying? Just open your mouth and ask.

Most people come for meetings with their property lawyers completely unprepared. This makes the property lawyers themselves quite happy as it means meetings end earlier

While it’s true that your lawyer handles the transaction for you, you are ultimately responsible for funding your own purchase and you will lose money if you are unable to obtain a loan in time or submit payment late. Ask your lawyer for a timeline so you have the space to get everything done.

There’s also a high chance you’ll attend your first meeting with your lawyer before finalising your financing arrangements. Your lawyer can advise you on how much CPF you’ll be able to use, and how much you’ll have to pay in cash based on the amount the bank is willing to lend you.

2. Have your lawyer explain all documents

You’re going to be signing quite a few documents as a property purchaser. Many people think that because they’re signing in front of a lawyer, that means they don’t need to understand a thing. Like some kind of omnipresent guardian, the lawyer will take care of everything, swooping down and inflicting pain on anyone who tries to cheat them.

Unfortunately, your lawyer’s job is to make sure he understands all your contracts, and if you act as if you know what’s going on he will assume you don’t need him to explain them.

Even if you’ve taken the time to read through the contracts, there’s a 99% chance you’re missing something. Your lawyer can’t refuse if you ask him to explain a contract or highlight issues that might be important to you. If he doesn’t do so voluntarily, ask.

Here’s another huge reason you need to understand your documents: you, and not your lawyer, are the one who will be inspecting and moving into the property.

For example, if you’re buying a new property that’s still under construction, you need to know the timeframe within which you can get the developer to rectify defects free of charge. Miss the deadline and your lawyer isn’t going to come and fix your leaky toilet.

3. Submit any items as early as possible

Your lawyer will be pestering you to do several things, such as drop off your cashier’s orders at his office or get approved for a bank loan.

While you could technically wait till the last minute, doing everything you have to as early as possible can help not only your lawyer but also you.

For example, if you submit a cashier’s order containing an error on the day of your deadline, you might end up paying interest or even holding up the entire transaction.

4. Know the price range for legal services

For a typical property purchase, you should be prepared to pay anything between $1,500 and $5,000. As you can see, the range is fairly broad.

Neighbourhood firms that cater mainly to HDB purchasers tend to charge less, while larger firms tend to deal with higher value property purchases.

There is usually no way to know in advance exactly how much your transaction will cost other than by contacting a lawyer directly and having him assess your situation.

If you’re neither taking a bank loan nor using CPF, your legal fees might be lower, although since you’re clearly loaded it won’t matter too much anyway.

So should you go for as low a price as possible? Well, it depends. HDB firms that specialise in property tend to deal with hundreds of cases a day, so don’t expect too much attention from your lawyer. In fact, you might find yourself communicating exclusively with secretaries.

Have you engaged a property lawyer before? Share your experiences in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.