What to Look for in a Real Estate Contract (and Why You Might Want a Real Estate Attorney to Look for You)

real estate attorneyYou’re buying a house! Congratulations. That’s amazing. You’ve been searching for weeks, maybe months, and you’ve finally found the house that’s perfect for you. What happens next? You make an offer. “Offer” sounds like a friendly term, but you need to keep in mind that your offer is a legally binding contract. Before you dive in feet first and sign something you don’t fully understand, there are some things to consider.

Who’s writing this legally binding real estate contract?

Your real estate agent will be writing the purchase agreement on your behalf. Your agent has a fiduciary responsibility to you, so you can assume it’s written with your best interest in mind. However, your agent will be using a boilerplate contract and writing in your stipulations.

Realtors are not attorneys, but they’re creating a binding legal document on your behalf. If that doesn’t make you feel 100 percent comfortable, you should consider enlisting the services of an experienced real estate attorney. He or she can guide you throughout the process and review purchase agreements and closing documents (or attend your closing with you) to ensure that you understand what you’re signing and that all the terms are in agreement with what you’ve negotiated.

Earnest money and the option period.

Along with your offer, you’ll be expected to put down earnest money. Note that earnest money is not the same thing as a down payment. Earnest money payments can be as little as $1000, or can range from one to three percent of the total purchase price of the home. These are funds that are promised to the seller and typically held in escrow for closing. The option period specifies the amount of time you, as the buyer, have to cancel the offer without losing your earnest money. Make sure the option period works for your situation.

Who are you paying?

One other thing to note about earnest money payments: Never make your check out to an individual! Your check should be made out to the brokerage firm, escrow firm or real estate law firm that will facilitate your transaction. Keep a copy of your check for your records and get a written receipt.

Other stipulations to consider.

Contingencies are other stipulations that should be included in your offer to give you the leeway you need to get out of the deal if things go wrong. If the contingencies you need aren’t properly written into your offer and you need to get out of the deal, the seller may be entitled to keep your earnest money. Therefore, it’s essential to review the purchase agreement thoroughly prior to signing it and writing your earnest money check. Here are some contingencies you should consider for your home buying transaction:

  1. Must sell current home first. If you’re in a situation where you need the funds from the sale of your current home to able to buy a new one, make sure this contingency is specified in your offer. If there are multiple offers on the house you want, your seller may give your offer lower priority based on this contingency, but it’s better than losing your earnest money AND the house of your dreams if your current home doesn’t sell.
  2. Financing. A financing contingency states that your earnest money must be returned if your loan is denied for reasons that are deemed “beyond your control.”
  3. Clear title. A title search will ensure that the seller has a legal right to sell the property and that there are no liens on it. If the property does not have clear title, you’re entitled to a refund of your earnest money.
  4. Home appraisal. If the home you’ve made an offer on is appraised lower than your agreed upon price, this contingency enables you to renegotiate the price or back out of the deal altogether.

Get experience on your side.

People buy houses every day. Many of those transactions go off without a hitch. However, there are also plenty of ways a simple home purchase can get complicated, quickly. Especially if you’re a first-time home buyer, having an attorney who’s experienced in real estate law by your side through the process can give you peace of mind and potentially save you money and headaches down the road.

If you’re buying or selling real estate in Jackson County, in or near southern Indiana or central Indiana, and need the services of a trusted and experienced real estate attorney, contact Zach Miller today. His offices are in Brownstown, Indiana and he serves clients in Indianapolis, Bloomington, Columbus, Jeffersonville and Seymour, as well as neighboring towns. Zach can also help with other legal matters, like personal injury claims, estate planning, criminal record expungements, divorce, He’s just a phone call away.

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It’s Never too Early to Begin Planning Your Estate

estate planning

BE PREPARED–The Boy Scouts of America hold this motto at their core, and it’s great advice for non-scouts as well. Life has a way of throwing unexpected events at you such as personal injury and divorce (which might result in the need for a name change). The question isn’t if any unforeseen life events will occur, but if you and your loved ones will BE PREPARED for them.

When it comes to making your end-of-life plans and preparing your estate, you will consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to put your plans on paper. Currently, only 55 percent of U.S. adults have a will. Of those Americans with a will, over 90 percent are over age 60. While it’s true that it’s better late than never to make a plan, it’s wise to make sure that you meet with a qualified estate planning attorney to begin estate planning as soon as possible. The estate planning process can take a while, so it’s advisable to start it at a time when you’re healthy and not in immediate need of a will. Getting started with the estate planning process can help you and your family overcome the hardship of life’s unexpected events in many ways. Here are four benefits to estate planning: Continue reading “It’s Never too Early to Begin Planning Your Estate”

Criminal Record Expungements in Indiana

If a momentary lack of judgement or just a simple mistake has left you with a criminal record and in need of a criminal lawyer in the state of Indiana, you should consider seeking an expungement. A full expungement actually erases your criminal record. Full expungements are only possible if you were arrested but never convicted of a crime.

Clearing your name allows you to move past your mistakes and start living your life again.  An experienced expungement attorney can surely answer any questions you might have about this topic, but here’s an overview of what you need to know before seeking an expungement in Indiana.

Continue reading “Criminal Record Expungements in Indiana”

Planning a Name Change After a Divorce in Indiana: FAQs

Navigating the rocky waters of divorcename change is stressful. Your life has taken an unexpected turn, and you’re faced with choices you never thought you’d have to make–like whether to sell the home you’ve shared or try to find a way for one of you to stay in it. If you have children, negotiating custody issues can be emotionally draining for everyone and planning a name change just adds to your stress. There are many other legal issues that will arise during the time between the time you file for divorce and the time it’s final.

If you took your spouse’s name when you got married, deciding whether or not to change it back can be among the most personal choices you’ll face. During this time when your emotions are running high, it’s important to understand the facts about name changes before you decide what to do. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions regarding name changes with divorce in the state of Indiana.

Q: Is my name change automatic when my divorce in Indiana is issued?

A: No, it’s not.

You must petition for your name change during the proceedings. Indiana law allows for a woman to restore her maiden name (or even a previous married name) when the decree of dissolution is entered, but the name change is not automatic. If you have requested restoration of a previous last name, your changed name takes effect when the divorce decree is issued. That decree will serve as proof of ID for the license branch, your creditors and places you’re not even thinking of yet, so keep it handy.

Q: Does it cost anything extra to change my name during a divorce in Indiana?

A: No, it doesn’t, provided you request the name change prior to the divorce decree being finalized.

While you might have to pay a small administrative fee for copies of your divorce decree, there is no extra charge from the courts for a name change. (And it’s a good idea to pay for at least one extra copy of the decree, as it will be your official proof of identity immediately following the divorce.)

Q: If I change my name through my Indiana divorce, can I change my kids’ names too?

A: Not necessarily, but it’s possible.

The courts have long held the (somewhat archaic) belief that the father of the children has a right to insist that the children keep his name, as long as he continues to fulfill his parental duties. However, some courts are taking a more modern approach to this issue and area considering what might be in the children’s best interests. They’ll weigh issues like the age of the children, the strength of their relationships with both parents and the potential benefits and negative impacts that a name change might bring to the children’s lives. Custody issues will also be factored in. Consult your Indiana divorce attorney for guidance on this.

Q: If I didn’t request a name change during my divorce, can I still do it later?

A: Yes, but it’s not as simple.

In certain circumstances, you may be able to obtain your name change using your divorce decree without filing a special petition. If not, you’ll have to file a petition in the local circuit court, prove you’re a US citizen, describe any criminal convictions you’ve had and publish your petition in the local newspaper once per week for three weeks, 30 days prior to the hearing. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through post-divorce, so you should consider your choice carefully prior to your divorce being finalized. Don’t allow the emotions of the moment override your best judgement, and trust the advice of your family law attorney who can help you weigh the pros and cons of your name change.

Q: How do I choose the best divorce attorney in Indiana to help me navigate my name change and other issues in my divorce?

A: Do your research, check references and look for experience, compassion and approachability.

Finding a compassionate, experienced divorce attorney in Indiana who will take the time to listen to your concerns, consider your best interests and help you see the big picture of what your life will look like once you get past this time in your life is invaluable. If you live in southern Indiana, interview several divorce attorneys throughout the areas of Seymour, Brownstown and Columbus before you make your choice. Remember that the big names don’t necessarily mean the best choice. You’ll be spending a lot of time and confiding very personal information with your attorney, so make sure you’re working with someone you like. Don’t make any decisions about your name change, custody issues, real estate matters or anything else related to your divorce until you have a trusted divorce attorney by your side.

About Miller Law

Zach Miller is a private practice attorney in Brownstown, Indiana who serves southwestern and central Indiana communities including Indianapolis, Seymour, Bloomington, Columbus and Jeffersonville and other cities and towns throughout Jackson County. Zach serves clients in family law and personal injury cases as well as other areas, including criminal law, probate law, business litigation, real estate law and general legal counsel. Zach prides himself on creating personal relationships with his clients and delivering one-on-one service. He lives and works in the community he serves. Keep up with the latest news from Zach by subscribing to his newsletter.