While you might not have a law degree, two law school buddies who opened an L.A.–based residential brokerage say that shouldn’t stop you from becoming the contracts and negotiations expert your clients need.
going over contract

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Mark Cianciulli and Daniel Taylor sat next to each other during their very first law school class in 2011. It happened to be a class on contracts. At the time, they never dreamed that connection would lead to a partnership in a real estate firm. But they eventually realized that combining their legal and real estate expertise would be the perfect combination to help clients. So, in 2016, they opened The CREM Group in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.

Before heading to law school at age 27, Cianciulli had a career as a certified public accountant focusing on real estate companies, which compelled him to study real estate law. “I figured my skill set would make for a productive real estate agent,” he says.

Taylor, who was 24 when he started law school, worked as a general commercial litigator for a few years after passing the bar, defending restaurants and bars. He also represented other real estate brokers and property owners in real estate disputes. But Taylor grew tired of the contentiousness of going to trial. So, he decided to launch the company with his buddy and study partner from law school.

“We decided to start our own brokerage and build it from the ground up so we would be able to do things the way we wanted and create our own identity,” Taylor says.

How a Law Degree Can Help Real Estate Clients

The partners not only help clients sell and buy homes, they also specialize in probate real estate sales, which is representing people who need or want to sell real estate during the probate process. This is when someone passes away without a trust, and the court must be involved in the overseeing of the administration of the estate.

“I got to see the mistakes of other brokers full circle on the legal side. It gives me the foresight that may prevent problems when doing real estate transactions,” Taylor says.

Cianciulli found fulfillment when he changed one of his real estate clients’ lives financially. Being a lawyer allowed him to help an Oregon woman who was willed her grandfather’s estate navigate the complexities of probate.

What made the situation unusual was that the clients thought she was just getting a house. Lo and behold, the estate included many properties. After Cianciulli did research, spoke with neighbors to get a sense of who this man was, and worked hand-in-hand with a probate attorney, Cianciulli discovered her father had accumulated quite a bit of real estate. And in the end, Cianciulli helped his client sell the portfolio.  

“She was the only heir, and this changed her and her family’s lives forever. Now they have a great windfall,” he adds.

For Taylor, he believes his skills as a litigator in court give him an edge in negotiations. But the pair has to be very aware of their boundaries in terms of giving legal advice to their real estate clients. Taylor says about 20 percent of his business is strictly as a lawyer, the rest as a broker.

“Giving your real estate clients generalities of the law is perfectly fine, but to advocate a position is not,” Cianciulli says. “You have to present all options in an unbiased way and let them decide.”

There are liabilities for every agent in every transaction. If the partners get into any liability situations, a judge might hold them up to a higher standard because they should know better as lawyers, Cianciulli adds.

Taylor says the two of them can read a real estate contract inside and out, which helps their clients not only in negotiations but also in respect to the title of a property. They research how certain items may affect the title at the time of purchase, such as whether there is a recorded lien or any type of lawsuit attached to property or easement.

4 Tips for Real Estate Success From Legal Experts

  1. Both Taylor and Cianciulli says it’s imperative that all agents take the time to understand all the terms in a standard purchase agreement. “Something tells me a lot of [agents] have never read through it,” Cianciulli says.
  2. Brokers should ensure that their agents understand everything that happens in a real estate transaction, not just price and financing, Taylor says. This allows agents to better serve their clients and help them understand all the papers they will be signing, which eases tension and builds confidence.
  3. It's worthwhile for agents to be educated in negotiations by attending classes, working with seasoned experts, reading books, and studying negotiations on an ongoing basis.
  4. Brokers and agents alike should also grow their networking groups to include attorneys, bankers, and financial managers. The knowledge and connections you acquire from them can help your business on many levels, Taylor says. It allows you, the broker, to have someone to call in an instant for the right answers.

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