Real estate law—also referred to as property law—is a highly complex field of law that requires paralegals to understand the rights and interests of individuals as it relates to commercial and residential real estate and real property. For those paralegals with an eye for detail and a knack for the intricacies involved in drafting, negotiation, and closing real estate transactions, real estate law can prove to be a highly rewarding and lucrative career choice.
Paralegals work under attorneys who facilitate the business of real estate, which includes:
- Selling, buying, and leasing land, housing, natural resources, buildings, or similar interests in real estate
- Development and use of property
- Financing large development projects and working with real estate investment trusts
The Property Law Paralegal: Job Duties and Responsibilities
In typical real estate transactions, it is the job of the paralegal to:
- Review and prepare general correspondence, trust letters, mortgages, and statements of adjustment
- Review purchase and sale contracts
- Review, request, and order:
- Real property reports
- Certificates of title
- Title insurance
- Due diligence searches
- Record important dates and maintain files
- Organize closing funds
- Calendar all critical dates and contingencies
- Prepare a closing checklist, which includes outlining critical dates and the responsibilities of all parties
- Coordinate closing with all parties in the transaction, including the buyer, sellers, title insurance company, opposing counsel, and lender
- Prepare transfers/affidavits of transferees, closing documents, closing reports, and accounts
Due diligence activities are an important part of a real estate transaction; therefore, it is often the duty of the paralegal to:
- Conduct or arrange for a title search (or order a title commitment from the title insurance company is not representing the title company)
- Review and analyze the survey
- Draft objection letters in the event of any survey and title issues
- Draft complaint challenging a property assessment
- Coordinate a formal property appraisal report and, if necessary, prepare a notice of appeal on the valuation of the property
After the closing has taken place, paralegals record all required real estate documents and financial statements. When the recorded documents have been returned, they prepare a closing binder the contains copies of all documents.
Paralegals in commercial real estate transactions have additional duties and responsibilities:
- Review contracts and leases for assignment and prepare abstracts for contracts and leases (commercial real estate)
- Obtain and prepare corporate documents, including authorization of the applicable parties to purchase/sell
- Conduct public record searches of parties, including judgment, tax liens, and UCC filings
- Order environmental assessment and address any issues
- Obtain closing figures from the bank and prorate amounts for real and property taxes, utilities, and rent
How Duties Can Differ According to Employment Setting
Paralegals in real estate work in a variety of settings, including in-house legal departments, private law firms, government agencies, real estate firms, lenders, and title companies. Depending on the employer, job duties may vary.
For example, paralegals who work for firms employed by a lender or other lien claimant may be required to handle foreclosure actions, while paralegals employed by a firm representing a developer are often required to prepare subdivision, condominium, and timeshare registrations.
Further, paralegals working for lenders in real estate transactions must draft a number of documents, such as promissory notes, security agreements, and assignments of rents and leases, while paralegals working for firms representing a commercial landlord or tenant are required to draft and negotiate lease terms, modify contracts, and draft subleases.
Education and Certification Opportunities for Paralegals in Real Estate
The majority of paralegals begin their careers by completing a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
ABA programs range from paralegal certificate programs to associate and bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies. To date, no minimum educational requirements exist to become a paralegal; however, most paralegal associations, including the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), recommend the completion of a program that consists of at least 60 semester credits—equivalent to an associate’s degree.
An internship is also an important part of a paralegal’s education, as it provides ample opportunity for real world experience in a specific area of law. Both the AAfPE and NALA recommend an internship of at least six months.
Professional paralegal certification remains voluntary, although many employers look for candidates that possess some type of designation, as it indicates a level of proficiency in, and a commitment to, the profession.
Advanced certification in real estate law allows paralegals to demonstrate advanced competency in areas such as lease agreements, contracts/agreements for sale, financings, deeds, and much more.
NALA offers advanced certification in two areas of real estate:
- Real Estate – Land Use
- Real Estate Principles
Advanced certification courses through NALA are part of their self-study programs and are focused on the mastery of specific area of law. Most courses are about 20 hours in length and organized into multiple, online modules.