By Andrew Zashin*

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

Very often, people wonder if it is necessary to hire a real estate agent or even an attorney to buy or sell real estate. After all, Realtor commissions and/or attorney fees add up, and it is tempting to want to keep that money in your pocket.

The short answer is no, you do not need to hire professionals, but it sure helps.

Buying and selling property is quite different than selling a used car on craigslist. For starters, real estate is generally going to be many times more expensive, meaning it will be a much bigger deal if you overpay for a new purchase or undervalue the property you are selling. Further, there are a multitude of specific laws that must be followed, from fair housing issues to required disclosures for things like the existence of use, lead paint or pipes, and radon.

Then, of course, you want to make sure you have a properly drafted contract to best protect you against future problems. And, perhaps the area where a professional earns most of his or her fee is in the negotiation process. Knowing the fair price of a property requires knowledge of the market, how comparable properties have sold, and how certain features and issues impact upon the value.

Is it possible for a lay person to learn about these things and adequately represent him or herself in a transaction? Sure. But it takes lots of time and effort, and you would be missing out on the expertise and experience of someone who does it for a living. After all, you could study up and do the same work as your plumber or electrician. You could even set your broken leg if you so wished. But, without the training and experience of a professional, the job is much more difficult and less likely to be done well.

For the majority of real estate transactions, such as the purchase of a home, a rental property, or even a smaller commercial property, you generally will not need an attorney; a real estate agent will have all of the expertise necessary.

A real estate agent is not qualified to give legal advice, but he or she typically does not need to. A real estate agent will have the necessary legal documents to cover the important points of the transaction. And, he or she will be familiar with the laws that affect the transaction. In short, for a good Realtor, the commission is money well spent for your protection and piece of mind.

*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.