There are all kinds of reasons why you might need a real estate attorney. From buying a home to evicting those party-all-night tenants from that rental house your brother-in-law, Melvin, talked you into buying, the situations where a lawyer would come in handy are numerous. But how do you choose the right real estate attorney? And how do you know if they’re any good?

Let’s look at some factors that might help you avoid the embarrassment of saying, “Why did I ever listen to Melvin?”

Types of Real Estate

First, you want to make sure that the attorney you hire has experience handling the type of real estate you’re dealing with. Each has its own particular pitfalls.

Residential real estate is what we mean when we say “I’m buying a home.” It might be a three-bedroom ranch, a loft apartment uptown, or that cute “tiny home” you saw online and actually thought looked big enough to live in. It’s generally property that’s occupied by the owner, but probably includes that house Melvin snookered you into.

Commercial real estate is just what it sounds like: managing business property used to generate a profit. If you buy an apartment complex, hotel, retail store or warehouse, congratulations! You’re now part of the wonderful world of commercial real estate.

Real Estate Issues

The list of legal issues that can involve real estate is a long one. Are you buying a co-op? Do you even know what a co-op is? You might want to find an attorney who does. Did you buy an old house with the idea to start your own mega-church, only to find out your neighborhood’s not zoned for that? Better hire a lawyer who’s experienced with zoning variances. Did your neighbor build a fence four feet over your property line? Don’t try to solve the problem with a chainsaw. Boundary disputes can get nasty, so call an attorney who handles that kind of case.

In short, when researching real estate attorneys, take the time to look into their experience and practice areas, as some may be more suited to call upon for certain issues than others.

How to Find the Right Attorney

Try as you might, closing your eyes, clicking  your heels and crossing your fingers won’t bring the real estate attorneys running to your door. You’re going to have to do your homework.

Talk to friends, family and colleagues to see if they’ve had a positive experience with a real estate attorney. Check your state’s bar association to see if they have a referral service. Check out referral and rating websites for lawyers like Avvo. Getting a list of names is only the start, though. If you were paying attention, you’ve noticed that a recurring theme in the above advice is experience.

Call the lawyer’s office and ask specific questions relating to your particular real estate needs. A lawyer who’s brilliant at construction dispute mediation might not be the right choice to help you fend off foreclosure on your home. Your landlord/tenant dispute involving that rental house you regret buying will be better off handled by a seasoned professional. Don’t use the lawyer who signed off on the title search when you bought the place who’s never seen the inside of a courtroom.

Final Thought

“Real estate law” is a broad term; ask questions to find the right fit for your case. And next time your brother-in-law gives you legal advice, you’ll know to ignore him and find the real deal.