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Published June 16, 2023
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What Is Conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring property ownership. A conveyancer takes on this work on behalf of sellers and buyers.

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When you buy or sell a property, you must perform several tasks related to the transfer of ownership. Completing them can be complex and time-consuming, but you can hire an experienced property professional to help.

Conveyancing: meaning and definition

Conveyancing refers to the area of law related to the transfer of property. The legal work involved in the conveyancing process includes: 

  • Conducting a title search, 
  • Arranging for the mortgage to be registered, and 
  • Preparing documents related to buying and selling a property, such as the sale of contract.

In Australia, this process is typically undertaken by a conveyancer typically takes on this work on behalf of sellers and buyers.

» MORE: How to Buy a House in Australia: 12 Steps to Purchasing Property

What is a conveyancer? 

A conveyancer is an experienced property professional who offers advice, information and assistance with transferring property ownership. Conveyancers guide buyers and sellers through the conveyancing process to ensure smooth transactions. 

Conveyancer vs solicitor 

In most regions of Australia, conveyancing can be performed by either a solicitor or what is known as a professional real estate conveyancer, also called a Settlement Agent in WA.

A professional conveyancer is a licensed specialist, while a solicitor is a lawyer with expertise in property law who can assist in the conveyancing process. 

What to know about conveyancers

Conveyancers must be licensed to conduct conveyancing on residential, commercial and rural properties on behalf of a client. Eligibility for the license varies in each state and territory, but a mix of training, education, qualifications and experience is required. For example, in NSW, conveyancers must be licensed by the Department of Fair Trading, and ongoing professional development training is necessary to renew the licence.

Licensed conveyancers are also required to take out professional indemnity insurance if any negligence causes the purchaser to lose money. 

What to know about solicitors 

A solicitor can do everything a conveyancing specialist can do — and more — since they generally have a broad knowledge of the law. That added expertise allows solicitors to tackle legal matters a conveyancing specialist wouldn’t be equipt to handle, so they’re usually most suitable for complex, risky property transfers or to advise home buyers if and when complications arise.

Since solicitors can provide extra services, they typically charge more than conveyancing specialists. 

Queensland and the ACT are currently the only regions that require solicitors exclusively to do all conveyancing, according to the Australian Registrars National Electronic Conveyancing Council (ARNECC), which manages the regulatory framework for conveyancing in Australia.

» MORE: What Is A Mortgage Broker?

What does a conveyancer do?

A conveyancer is simply there to facilitate the sale of the property and exchange titles as quickly and painlessly as possible. 

The process of conveyancing involves many steps, including: 

  • Examining the contract for sale.
  • Organising building and pest inspections, if required.
  • Checking for outstanding debts or land tax obligations.
  • Checking for any claims on the title or the land from private or government interests.
  • Checking for any other information that could affect the title or the property’s value, such as border or fence disputes or outstanding work required by council for safety reasons.
  • Examining a strata inspection report if the property is in a strata scheme.
  • Exchanging contracts and paying the deposit.
  • Arranging for stamp duty payment.
  • Overseeing the change of title with the registry services of the particular state.
  • Attending settlement.

While this may seem like a rather long checklist, your conveyancers should be able to perform all the above tasks as part of the service. Doing so usually involves them liaising with a number of other parties, including the seller’s solicitor, the office of state revenue in any given state, and often with local councils.

Once this is complete, your conveyancer needs to ensure no money is owing on the property, no competing claims, and that the new title has all the right information, such as your correct name and address. Once contracts are signed and exchanged, the conveyancer will organise a settlement date. 

How much does conveyancing cost?

The cost of conveyancing generally falls between $500 to $2500. However, the amount charged by the conveyancer can vary widely depending on price and location, the number of searches required and the time involved. The more straightforward the purchase, the smaller the conveyancing cost should be.   

The total cost covers various tasks the conveyancer may perform and disbursement costs for fees incurred while carrying out the work. These expenses may include charges for title searches and certificates or costs, such as stamp duty, payable during conveyancing. 

Conveyancing fees can be payable for any or all of the following:  

  • Stamp duty
  • Building and pest inspections
  • A title search
  • Fees charged by government bodies to disperse certificates for water and electricity
  • Registering the mortgage
  • Strata report fees and levies if the property is under strata title
  • Registering the property transfer
  • Council and water rates.

Conveyancing may end up being one of the more expensive items on your to-do list as a first-home buyer, so budgeting for these services is important.

» MORE: Costs To Know When Buying a House

Do you need a conveyancer?

It is possible to do your own conveyancing using a DIY kit, which you can obtain online or from a post office. It may seem tempting to go it alone. If you’re struggling to get a deposit together and are overwhelmed by the cost of everything involved in purchasing your property, this route may seem tempting.

However, those conveyancing kits are really only there to provide some guidance for their users — they aren’t a replacement for a professional who offers peace of mind that they’ve done everything required, such as making sure there are no issues with councils, the rates aren’t in arrears, or there are other debts owing. These things may be hard to unearth if you’re unsure where to look.  

Furthermore, even if you think you did everything correctly, you will be personally liable if you do it yourself and there is a problem. 

Conveyancing can be an extremely time-consuming and confusing process fraught with danger, especially for first-home buyers. While bypassing the initial cost of hiring a conveyancer may save you money now, getting things wrong can end up costing you a lot more. So it is almost always better to engage a professional.

» MORE: Should You Use A Buyer’s Agent?

How to find the right conveyancer

Many people will personally know a conveyancer or solicitor or use one they’ve heard about through word of mouth from family or friends. 

You can also visit the Australian Institute of Conveyancers website for comprehensive listings for each state and territory. As members, they should be reputable, but you should still always ask to see their qualifications. 

Conveyancers and solicitors must disclose their costs and fees beforehand, so there should be no hidden nasties down the track. Remember to ask for an itemised bill and for clarification regarding anything you need help understanding. 

Above all else, a conveyancer is there to make the whole process run as smoothly as possible and to unearth any issues that may not previously have been apparent. It pays to get someone highly efficient with a good reputation so you can avoid potential nightmares when moving house.

» MORE: Finding A Mortgage Broker


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