In Colorado, Real Estate Brokers Are Granted the Limited Practice of Law

Colorado is a great state to buy and sell real estate — and to be a real estate broker. In other states, as many as four lawyers must be retained in the typical real estate transaction — one by each party to the contract, and one by the broker for each side. This can make the cost of buying and selling real estate in such states unduly expensive.

Although I have only been a licensed real estate broker in Colorado, I have bought and sold real estate in New York, Virginia and Hawaii.  Colorado is definitely the best.

In Colorado, the only costs of selling real estate are the 1) title insurance, 2) real estate commissions, and 3) the fee charged by the title company for closing the transaction, although there may be additional costs charged by your HOA or its management company, when applicable. There are no state transfer fees or taxes. Since the above fees are typically paid by the seller, a buyer who does not require a mortgage to purchase real estate pays only his share of the title company’s closing fee ($100 to $400 typically), plus the cost of recording the transaction with the county, which is 1/10th of 1% of the sales price. Buyers who take out a mortgage loan to finance their purchase are the only ones with significant additional costs when purchasing real estate in Colorado.

In 1957, the Colorado Bar Association sued to require lawyers’ involvement in real estate transactions, but the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in the Conway Bogue decision that real estate licensees could provide the limited legal service of interpreting and completing state-approved forms for buyers and sellers.

Among the arguments in support of that decision, the court cited the lack or shortage of lawyers in many Colorado counties and the fact that real estate licensees had been performing that function for 50 or more years with no evidence that the public — or lawyers — had been harmed.

The court did require that this service only be performed by licensees who were retained to represent one or both parties in the transaction and that no separate fee be charged for completing the forms beyond the compensation already being earned by the licensee for the transaction.

Sixty-three years later, the Conway Bogue decision is still the law in Colorado, allowing the limited practice of law by real estate brokers, and we can all be glad for it. Imagine if you had to pay $100 or more per hour to a lawyer to counsel you through every step of a real estate sale or purchase!

As I said, we licensees only have the ability to interpret and complete state-approved forms, such as listing agreements, buyer agency agreements, purchase contracts, counterproposals, amendments, disclosures, inspection objections, post-closing occupancy agreements, and the numerous other forms approved by the Colorado Real Estate Commission.

Any seller is allowed to replace those state-approved forms with ones created by an attorney, and home builders routinely use their own contracts. While we can and do represent buyers of new homes, we may not counsel our buyers regarding those documents, since that would constitute practicing law without a license. Instead, we must recommend that buyers hire a real estate lawyer to review them,  Of course, we only recommend legal advice (just as we recommend getting tax advice), but the buyer is free to ignore that recommendation, which many of them do, opting instead to study the documents by themselves and ask questions of the builder’s sales personnel.