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Real estate practice guidelines get an update

|Written By Helen Burnett

The real estate bar is hoping to emphasize the value of the lawyer and educate the public through its newly approved guidelines for real estate transactions.

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It’s the first broad update of practice standards in more than 10 years.

The Residential Real Estate Transaction Practice Guidelines, based on principles first put together by the profession’s working group on lawyers and real estate, were developed by the law society’s CEO’s working group on real estate issues and were approved by Convocation earlier this year. They focus on areas such as client/lawyer relationship, due diligence, proper filing and record-keeping, document preparation and registration, financial issues, and extraordinary matters.

Most of the guidelines are recommended and, according to the law society, “not intended to replace a lawyer’s professional judgment or to establish a rigid approach to the practice of law or the conduct of a real estate transaction.”

The working group on lawyers and real estate notes that this is the first broad updating of residential real estate practice standards since the mid-1990s. Before this particular set of guidelines was created, there was only a broad set of principles in place through various rules and provisions, but not in the same format.

Ray Leclair, co-chairman of the working group on lawyers and real estate, told Law Times the guidelines are an industry initiative as opposed to the regulator coming down on the industry.

“Were very pleased that the law society put that in place and is going to be adopting those and hopefully start enforcing them,” he says.

In terms of the principles, Leclair says, “We tried to make it something that was very manageable for the lawyer to be able to look at without being specific to the point where it becomes too tedious to go through.”

The guidelines could also help the industry address some of the challenges it is facing at the moment, as they will be one of the elements that help to educate the public.

“Hopefully it will be a tool that will be available for people to decipher and look at and say this is what a conscientious real estate lawyer should be doing in a transaction,” says Leclair.

He adds that the guidelines can also assist clients in making the distinction between using a lawyer, paralegal, or even title insurance companies in real estate transactions.

“It kind of shows the breadth of what we deal with on a real estate transaction,” he says.

The emphasis of the working group as a whole has been on the value of the real estate lawyer in the real estate transaction, says Leclair.

To go along with the guidelines, the working group also developed a suggested fee schedule for solicitors working on real estate transactions.

The law society has nothing to do with the fee schedule.

“What the fee schedule tried to plug into was to try to feed off of the practice guidelines and say, if you’re doing this, as a conscientious lawyer should do, then we think you should value your services in this range,” says Leclair.

In addition to having new guidelines and a fee schedule, Ontario’s real estate lawyers will also now have online access to the forms they use for property transactions, following an alliance between the working group on lawyers and real estate and the Ontario Real Estate Association.

English and French e-versions of six standard transaction forms used for residential and commercial property deals in the province are now available online, through LawyerDoneDeal Corp., at www.lawyersworkinggroup.com.

The forms include the agreement of purchase and sale for residential, condominium resale, commercial, condominium resale-commercial, agreement to lease for commercial and schedule A. The forms can be completed and revised online, printed and saved, and also securely viewed by others involved in a transaction.

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