I live in a state that permits real estate agents to prepare purchase contracts for their clients. Under what circumstances should I consider having an attorney eyeball the purchase transaction?

A couple of transactions are worth seeking legal help. Let's say that you are contemplating buying a home in a planned unit development with a deep-water boat dock to house your Vanguard sailboat. You want exclusive rights to the boat dock. Chances are you will be handed a very thick stack of rather imposing looking documents to cull through and understand concerning your rights in the development and the dock. To save your eyesight, and wet-thumbing through Black's Law Dictionary, hire a real estate attorney well versed in cohousing communities to review the CC&Rs (conditions, coveneants and restrictions) on your behalf. Check to see if the important elements are compatible with your lifestyle and needs. Some associations exert more control over their lives and activities of their members than does the government.

One other area where an attorney's advice is well worth the expense has to do with title. An attorney searches the public records to to ensure that the property you are purchasing can be legally occupied and that there are no tax or other liens against the property. In some states, as for example California, some of these searches can be skipped; instead title companies issue a preliminary title report to purchasers to review prior to signing on the proverbial dotted line.

Alternatively, just ask an experienced real estate attorney to review the contract, explain the "Conditions and Contingencies" and what the requirements are in plain English. This can take less than an hour and be a worthwhile investment.