12 March 2022

Conveyancing: a cheat-sheet guide

Danielle Redford

Buying a home can come with plenty of exciting moments!

  • The first inspection

  • The moment you find out your offer has been accepted

  • Move-in day

  • Pizza on the floor surrounded by boxes

  • Enjoying the feeling of finally being at home

Although let’s be honest: move-in day rarely ends peacefully!

While there’s plenty to look forward to when buying your dream home, there are practical steps along the way that are crucial to making that a reality. Purchasing a home is entering into a legally binding contract - it’s time to call in the professionals.

Enter your conveyancers. Their job is to make sure you reach that move-in moment, from the signature of the contract through to the final settlement.

Settlement is a nuanced process with many key action points before your actual settlement date. A mixture of financial, administrative and legal considerations, working with a reliable conveyancer can remove the confusion, streamline the process, and protect you against potential heartache when a small missed detail leads to a breached contract. While working with a conveyancer isn’t a legal requirement, it’s certainly recommended for those of us who aren’t familiar with the nuanced ins and outs of moving from an offer through to settlement.

Conveyancing is about the process

In the simplest terms, conveyancing is the process by which an owner sells a property to someone else. Legally, conveyancing is the legal or statutory transfer of that property’s title from the old owner to the new buyer.

The beginning point where you’d most likely start work with a conveyancer is when an owner and buyer enter into a contract that defines the terms through which the property is to be sold. The conveyancing process has reached completion at settlement when the title is transferred in exchange for the agreed purchase price.

There are three critical stages through a standard conveyancing process:

  1. Before the contract’s signed (when conveyancers can complete reviews of proposed contracts)

  2. Pre-completion (during which building and pest inspections may take place, finance clauses will be satisfied or not satisfied, and any other special conditions will be actioned in order to move ahead to settlement)

  3. Post-completion.

Can’t you do this all yourself?

The short answer: yes. There’s no legal reason why you can’t act as your own conveyancer, completing all contracts and forms throughout the purchase process.

The long answer: the hundreds of dollars you may save by not hiring a conveyancer may result in the loss of tens of thousands. If a small detail is missed or a contract is breached under certain conditions, buyers stand to lose the property and their deposit paid to date.

By hiring a conveyancer, you’re protecting yourself both in the short-term and long run. A conveyancer will work with you to identify potential issues in your proposed purchase, such as checking for easements or identifying other property particulars that may impact its long-term value.

What conveyancers do for buyers

While each purchase can bring a different set of conveyancing matters for consideration, there are several standard actions a conveyancer will take when acting for a buyer. These include:

  • The preparation and lodgement of legal documents, including the contract of sale and memorandum of transfer. This also includes ongoing communication with the conveyancer for the other party.

  • Research and review of the property’s certificate of title

  • Holding deposit money in a trust account to meet contractual deadlines

  • Calculating rates and taxes

  • Attending settlement to settle the property on your behalf, including contacting your bank or lender to advise when final payments are made

  • Representing your overall interests to vendors and agents

What conveyancers do for sellers

Selling a home is often much more straightforward than buying a home, with the onus of conveyancing activity resting on the buyer’s side. However, it’s still crucial to work with a conveyancer when you’re the one in the seller’s seat. You’ll receive the same peace of mind, expert advice and simplification of the process when enlisting a conveyancer to represent you throughout this process.

For sellers, conveyancers will complete all required legal documents and represent you in any ongoing communication or negotiation with the buyer and their conveyancer. Should a buyer request to extend dates or require further communication around any elements that arise during their property title search, the seller’s conveyancer handles all aspects arising from the point of sale to final settlement. Notably, a seller’s conveyancer will also track and monitor critical dates. They ensure key progress points are met within the contract in a timely and specified way.

Conveyancers will also make sure sellers fulfil every requirement within the contract. This includes notifying the bank that holds the existing mortgage that the property is to be sold, requiring a Discharge Authority to be lodged by the sellers with their bank. This also allows the conveyancer to communicate directly with the bank, including settlement.

What to look for in a conveyancer

Finding a conveyancer can be daunting - after all, buying or selling a house is no small investment. It’s essential that you work alongside someone who you can trust, who communicates proactively and promptly, and who’s got the credibility you need to entrust the purchase or sale of your home too.

While it’s not a small decision, there are some simple ways to identify who may be a good fit for your conveyancing needs. This is a great time to receive recommendations from trusted friends and family who may have worked with a conveyancing team before. Real estate agents can also recommend reputable conveyancers. Gather some suggestions and make a shortlist.

From that list, ensure your potential conveyancer is:

  • A member of the Australian Institute of Conveyancers

  • Has specialist knowledge about the type of property you’re purchasing (this is particularly important for non-standard purchases)

  • Can clarify their fees upfront, so you’re not left with a nasty surprise.

Conveyancer fee ranges

There are a number of ways different conveyancing companies choose to structure their fees. Many conveyancers work on flat fees, meaning you’re only paying for additional titles on top of their fixed service rate. This flat fee can range from $500-$1000, though it’s worth noting that more complex property purchases may sit outside of this flat fee range.

Other considerations

Factoring in the cost of conveyancing before you step into a hot property market will give you peace of mind regarding your purchasing power. Additional fees trip up too many people, so understanding what a conveyancer does and how much you’ll need to budget for their services can save you valuable time and energy when you’re attending open home after open home. As well, make sure you’ve left room in your budget for building and pest inspection reports, as well as government charges on the transfer itself, such as registration fees and stamp duty.

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