Strictly speaking, no. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not require you to retain an attorney to purchase real estate. Contrast this with my native New Jersey, for instance, where “Attorney Review” of a real estate transaction is compulsory. But, so what? You’re reading a blog post that was written by an attorney. You can see my answer to this question coming a mile away, you’re thinking. Well, sorry to disappoint, but while I’d never suggest that you shouldn’t consider retaining an attorney when purchasing a home, I will suggest that we are more of a luxury than a necessity. At least when it comes to your run-of-the-mill home purchase.
I say this for two reasons. One, if you’re like the overwhelming majority of the population and are using a realtor to purchase your home, odds are you will be using the Standard Agreement for the Sale of Real Estate. This form, which is a standard form promulgated by the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, is a comprehensive contract that will account for all of the necessary terms for the sale of real estate. Settlement dates, deposit amounts, seller assist – it will have you covered. The need for an attorney will come only after either the buyer or the seller has violated one of the agreed upon provisions. Such a violation does happen from time-to-time, and you should absolutely contact an attorney if it does.
Second, the required seller disclosures under 68 PA Cons Stat § 7304 (2017) offer significant protections to the purchaser. These disclosures are exhaustive. For instance, the disclosure law mandates that the typical seller of real estate inform the buyer of any issues with the plumbing, heating, electrical, or air-conditioning systems within the house. These disclosures also demand the seller disclose any structural problems, soil problems, or the presence of hazardous substances. The disclosures even require notice of problems with the title to the property and any condominium or homeowner’s associations associated with the property. The remedy for a willful or negligent failure to disclose this information is actual damages suffered by the buyer, with the ability to request attorney’s fees, but that won’t stop some individuals from failing to disclose deficiencies with the property either because (1) they don’t care or (2) they didn’t know how comprehensive their disclosures needed to be. In those cases, you should reach out to an attorney.
And there are complexities within the disclosure law. For instance, not all sellers need to disclose property defects. Most importantly, there is an exception for fiduciaries in the course of the administration of an estate (but even then, there’s an exception to this exception). There is also an exception to some transfers concerning construction. So if you have any doubts about the accuracy of the disclosures you received from the seller and/or don’t know why you didn’t receive any to begin with, please do not hesitate to reach out to us here.