There are any number of horror stories out there about people who have been burned during a real estate transaction. Perhaps they took a condominium for rent only to have the rent jump beyond their price range after a year of occupancy. Maybe they bought a house only to end up in the middle of a legal battle with a neighbor over who owned the tree straddling the property line. Or maybe the whole sale was a scam. Whatever the story, most of the problems could have been prevented by reading the fine print.

When we say 'read the fine print' we mean make sure that you are aware of all the clauses and conditions in the contract before you sign it. Developers and sellers often shun the less pleasant aspects of the agreement about their sale to footnotes in tiny text at the bottom of the page. This is where fine print gets its name, but practically fine print means any disguised clause which can jump up and bite you if you don't pay proper attention to it.

It's becoming more and more common that the 'fine print' clauses aren't actually in fine print anymore. This is because people recognize the danger of small printing and therefore zero in on it when they're signing an agreement for a mortgage. The popular method these days for disguising the less agreeable aspects of an agreement is to wrap them in a cocoon of legalese and 'if/then' statements that are designed to confuse you and force you to sign the contract without understanding to save your pride.

In any type of situation where signing a contract is required, whether it's buying real estate listings or applying for a mortgage, never allow your pride to interfere. If you don't understand something, ask questions. The only person who will suffer if you decide you don't want to look stupid by asking a dumb question is you. Of course, you can't rely on the other party not to hide additional truths from you, so you should always have your contract looked over by a lawyer.

There are many contracts that need to be signed before the property becomes yours, so the best option is usually to have a real estate lawyer you can call when contracts come up. You'll have one contract between you and the agent you hire to represent you, one between you and the bank that has agreed to give you a mortgage, and a third between you and seller of the house. One unfavorable clause in any of these contracts can ruin all the others, so be careful.

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