When you're buying and selling real estate all over the country, one issue you may eventually encounter is the fact that some states have very particular laws about who can and can't be involved in the preparation and facilitation of a real estate transaction.

In most states, real estate deals are fairly easy to close (whether you're closing it yourself or hiring a title company or escrow agency to handle it for you), but there are a number of states (mostly on the east coast) that literally REQUIRE the involvement of an attorney to close any real estate transaction… regardless of the purchase price, property type or the parties involved.

For the average real estate investor, this isn't a “problem” per se (after all… who would know better about closing a deal than an attorney?), but if you're involved specifically in the niche of land investing, this can present some issues…

When you're pursuing vacant land properties the right way, there will be plenty of opportunities to purchase vacant lots for a VERY low price (we're talking – less than a thousand dollars) and frankly, when you're literally required to enlist the services of an attorney (at well over $1,000 a pop) to close these deals, the cost can far outweigh the benefit, especially when the mechanics of closing the transaction just aren't that complicated.

A State-by-State Guide

I've bought and sold land in a number of states over the years, and in the markets where I've worked – I've only encountered this obstacle on a handful of occasions.

Luckily, I was working on deals that were fairly large and complex, so the added cost of using an attorney wasn't a show-stopper for me (in fact, I was happy to pay a little extra to avoid the headache of closing these deals myself).

However, knowing that these areas would probably be cost-prohibitive on smaller deals, I definitely wouldn't want to pursue these markets (i.e. – any of the states shaded in dark blue – below) if my sole focus was to snatch up the cheapest properties with a market value of less than $5,000 (because the attorney requirement in these states would probably be a deal-killing obstacle with every “cheap” property I wanted to buy).

So after years of being vaguely aware of the situation, I decided it was time to do the research, put in the legwork and create an interactive map (for you and me) with all my findings on which states DO and DON'T require an attorney to be involved in the closing of each transaction.

After cross-checking several sources and calling dozens of closing offices around the country, here's what I came up with…

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY DC

Disclaimer:The map above is a representation of the information I was able to find and interpret through many hours of research. While I believe the information is fairly reliable (and I did include links within each state, so you can click to see at least one supporting source), I cannot guarantee its complete accuracy. Many states change their laws and statutes from year to year, so be sure to verify the information above before you get too far along in the closing process in your state. I am not an attorney and this information shouldn't be interpreted as legal advice – this map simply represents the answers I was able to compile after doing an exhaustive online search and talking with several closing agents all over the U.S.

Interestingly enough, in the states where attorneys are required to close transactions, the severity of the issue varies based on how the law is written.

For example – in some states (like South Carolina and Georgia) an attorney must be active in the entire closing process, whereas in other states (like Alabama and Illinois) an attorney must be involved only in the preparation of certain documents (like deeds, financing instruments and other recordable items).

The issue is – some states have decided that the mere act of putting together a deed is synonymous with “practicing law” – and since every transfer of real estate involves the preparation of a deed, real estate transactions in these states cannot be finalized without the involvement of an attorney on some level (which makes “self-closing” very difficult, if not impossible in most situations).

When Is It Worth The Cost?

Don't get me wrong – real estate attorneys can certainly play an important role in many transactions (especially the ones that involve a great deal of money or complexity), but when a state's laws force EVERYONE to hire an attorney for even the simplest transactions… some would argue that this is a bit overbearing.

Is this problem severe enough to avoid doing business in these “attorney only” states altogether? I think it just depends on the profitability of the deals you're pursuing.

For instance, when I'm buying a property for $500 cash – it's difficult to argue the rationale for paying $1,000 (twice the amount of my purchase price) just for an attorney to do the exact same thing that I'm fully capable of doing myself.

On the same coin – if I'm buying a property that could easily net me a $50,000 profit (and if those are the ONLY types of properties I intend to purchase), then personally – I don't see any need to disqualify these “attorney only” states from my pursuits.

It's much easier to justify paying an attorney to do the work when my profit margin can easily pay for their services… but when I'm looking at smaller deals (and I'm literally not allowed to close in-house because I'm not an attorney), this can be a problem… maybe even a big enough problem to avoid certain states entirely.

Special Thanks

It took many hours to compile the information shown in the map above, and as I was doing the research this project – there were a few resources that were extremely helpful to me, so I wanted to give credit where credit is due:

  • Sandy Gadow has a very detailed state-by-state guide that was extremely helpful in cross-checking the information above.
  • Amitree has an overview of the home buying process for all 50 states, which provided a good starting point indicating which states follow which process.
  • James Orlando, Legislative Analyst for the Connecticut General Assembly published a detailed overview back in 2009 discussing several states that require attorney involvement for closing real estate transactions.

Lastly, it should come as no surprise that these state laws can vary and change from year to year. If you're an active real estate professional and you see any inaccuracies in the information shown above, please let me know about it! Leave a comment below and I'll be sure to continually update this map if/when I learn of any new information that should be added, removed or revised.

Join the discussion 30 Comments

  • joseph says:

    helpful points, thanks for sharing

  • Bob Hayden says:

    Hey! SETH WILLIAMS
    I totally agree with you bro. Great post!!
    These particular laws about who can and can’t be involved in the preparation and facilitation of a real estate transaction are really weird and silly.
    Thanks for sharing!
    BOB

  • Nicole Owens says:

    This was very informative. I didn’t know so many states have different laws when it came to this. Thank you for this great article.

  • Karl James says:

    Great article – thanks for the many hours of work.

  • Dan says:

    Interesting… I’ve bought and sold land in NY a few times and never used an attorney. Am I at risk doing this? Never knew that. The county I dealt with never said anything like that to me.

    • Seth Williams says:

      Hi Dan – based on what I found, I’m guessing most attorneys would tell you that you NEED to use them, but I think the ultimate determining factor would come down to what the LAW actually says (and I didn’t dig deep enough to uncover these specific details in all 50 states).

      I’ve heard from other investors who have closed deals without an attorney in other “attorney-only” states – and it sounds like some of these states treat these rules as more of an “advisory opinion”, but not necessarily as a “law breaking offense” to close without an attorney (which isn’t entirely a straightforward, black & white answer).

      I think in the end, the only way to find the truth would be to ask an attorney about it, and since most attorneys have a vested interest in telling you that they are required in the process (especially in the cases where they literally are), I think you’ll most likely have a hard time finding any other answer… but as always – if you find something different than what I have shown above, I’d love to hear more about it.

  • Kevin Westbrook says:

    This is a very interesting topic. A great way to ensure that there are no errors or omissions in your real estate contracts is to have E&O Insurance, provided at http://hmsriskmanagement.com. This will keep you, your reputation, and your money safe!

  • 411 We Buy Homes Fast says:

    This is a nice blog. I like the idea of your mapping points of each state, I believe most of them are accurate. Thanks for sharing such informative blog.

  • Austin says:

    I am new to land investing and I live in Georgia (one of the state that an attorney is “required”). I have the same mindset as you when you started out. I would really like to buy some land that is nearby and I can go inspect it myself. I called a local attorney that I know and he quote me a closing cost price of $1,000 (ouch). I can afford this but I am trying to save as much as I can on my first deal.

    What are some ways that I can save money on the closing cost? Are these fees usually negotiable? Or would you suggest that I begin investing somewhere besides Georgia?

  • Alex Harris says:

    Hello,
    Blog is really good enough and very helpful for house. And thanks for giving me the information related to houses.

  • Laurie says:

    I think involving lawyers with any transaction such as land/property, just further protects you. Great information, thanks for sharing!

  • Gulliver says:

    Seth,
    Super helpful and informative, as always!!

    Thank you!
    Gulliver

  • Kristin Wollmer says:

    Hi Seth,

    Great informative post, thanks for all the time you put into researching this!
    I’m having a hard time interpreting the map though. What is the difference between the medium blue and the light blue states? I am looking to write deeds in both regions, can I do this with no other party involved (title company, attorney, etc?)

    Thank you,
    Kristin

    • Seth Williams says:

      Thanks Kristin! I’m glad you found it helpful.

      I understand your question – I can see how the colors may not be clear. Basically… the lighter the colors get (i.e. – the further west you go), the less attorneys are typically involved with closing real estate transactions. In the eastern states, attorneys tend to be involved in either ALL real estate deals, or on the bigger/commercial types of deals. In the western states, attorneys are more seldom involved – and they have both title companies and escrow companies, which (from what I’ve gathered) are slightly different, but they can serve a very similar function.

      From what I gleaned in my research, you can feel free to write your own deeds in the lighter-blue states… but once you get to the darker blue states, you’ll want to be very careful, because many of those states consider it to be an “unauthorized practice of law” to write your own deeds. It’s a little ridiculous in my opinion… but I don’t write the laws.

      As always – don’t be afraid to ask an attorney in the states where you’re working. I’m not an attorney and it’s better to get these answers from a legitimate source. The map above was just based on the high level research I did. Either way, I hope it helps!

      • Kristin Wollmer says:

        Thank you for your quick and detailed response Seth!

        Now I understand the difference from the light and dark blues states, but you are speaking to only two different regions when you have three detailed on your map. What I am trying to understand is whether or now I will under law be able to write my own deed in the Midwest. I understand you are not an attorney, just curious on what you found while doing your high level research.

        Thanks again, I appreciate your response!

        – Kristin

        • Seth Williams says:

          From what I saw in my limited research, I would feel comfortable writing my own deeds in all states EXCEPT for the ones with a darker of blue (note: there are 4 shades of blue, the 2 darker shades are the states you’ll want to be careful in).

  • Margaret Olson says:

    Hi Seth-
    I was directed to your information after I entered something like “can a cash buyer simply pay the seller the final proceeds of a land purchase in cash or cashiers checks at closing, rather than using an escrow agent?” And I wasn’t able to find an answer. I had negotiated a “cash” price with my buyer but am now being told that that isn’t allowed by the escrow company chose, and I am supposed to go in to sign tomorrow but they say I won’t be able to be funded until the 28th or later, at which time I will have the option of getting a wired payment or accepting a check from their bank. I don’t use banks anymore…I don’t have an account to receive a wire or deposit a check, and I gave this guy a $60,000 dollar reduction in price simply for his ‘quick closing with cash payment’ offer. Now I’m being told too bad, I will be breaking the contract & have to cover all the costs if I try to pull out, (which I have been told I can’t do anyway, & will only result in added costs to me and delay my payout,) as I have already signed the purchase & sale agreement.
    I live in Snohomish, & my 9.33 acres that I’m selling is in Lake Stevens, which is in Snohomish County, WA.
    Do you know whether it’s allowable? I can’t see why it wouldn’t be– maybe inconvenient, but still… I’m very upset. My husband just died & this guy knows I need money or I’m going to start losing even more, like my home which I own free & clear, through tax foreclosure, & now when it’s time to sign, THIS. I have no time. Can you help me at all? Thank you for your time,
    Margaret Olson

    • Seth Williams says:

      Hi Margaret – I’m sorry to hear about your troubles… though I’m not sure I fully understand your question. What exactly is the problem you’re looking to resolve? Are you just trying to close on your own (without an escrow company getting involved), or is there some other issue you’re trying to address?

      From what little I know about Washington, I think it’s possible to close your deal in-house… but if the transaction is of a significant amount (and it sounds like it is), I would honestly think it’s worth your while to have a professional handle the closing. They’ll take a great deal of work out of your hands (though it probably will chew up more time in the process), and the cost usually isn’t unreasonable if the amount of the transaction is sizable.

  • Sandy Gadow says:

    Hi Seth,
    Thank you for the credit. If you need any further information, I up-date my State by State Closing guide regularly, and also I include a detailed description of how closings are handled in each state (and county) in my newly revised book, The Complete Guide To Your Real Estate Closing. Please visit me at my blog and website http://www.sandygadow.com for further updates. Thanks again!

  • Nick Raineri says:

    Great guide Seth! I’m sure many people have found this useful.

  • Justin says:

    Hi Seth,
    In your home state of Michigan, it says that the sale can be closed by the title company, real estate agent, lender or attorney. Does this mean that in order to do a self-close on a cash sale that you would need to be a licensed real estate agent? Or is “lender” synonymous with seller in these circumstances?

    • Seth Williams says:

      Hi Justin, you can do self-closings in Michigan, as long as it’s a deal you’re a party to (you’re not doing it on behalf of someone else, with no ownership interest in the property). The map is essentially saying that you don’t need to be an attorney. Sorry if that wasn’t overtly clear.

  • Scott Adams says:

    It’s interesting that you talked about attorney involvement changes depending on what state you live in. I have been wanting to start buying property. I can see how it would be smart to have a settlement agent’s help because my state has strict settlement laws.

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