What is a Conveyancer? What do they do? When do you need one?

Buying and selling property is an exciting time, whether it’s your first purchase or your next move up the property ladder. Mixed in with the excitement is often a feeling of overwhelm, as you consider the legal impacts of your purchase or sale. Thankfully there are professionals available to guide you safely through the legalities so you can focus on life in your new home.


What is conveyancing?


Conveyancing is the process of transferring ownership of property from seller to buyer. This involves not only the exchange of contracts but also a series of checks to ensure there are no issues that could jeopardise the sale or affect your plans for the property. It also takes in settlement, the final step where all monies are paid and the title officially transfers to the buyer.

What is a conveyancer?


A licenced conveyancer is a professional specialising in conveyancing. In NSW, conveyancers must be registered with NSW Fair Trading or be a practising legal practitioner (lawyer or solicitor). Whatever their qualifications, a conveyancer’s job is to guide you through the process of buying or selling property, from your first offer through to exchange and final settlement.

What does a conveyancer do?


You may be wondering what a conveyancer actually does when buying or selling a house. They play a vital role in keeping the sale on track and protecting you through the process. Conveyancers communicate important information, undertake legal and financial checks, provide advice on rights and obligations and ensure settlement proceeds as planned.

The NSW Department of Fair Trading lists the following as steps in the conveyancing process:

  • examining the contract for sale
  • arranging building and pest inspections
  • examining a strata inspection report (if the property is in a strata scheme)
  • arranging finance if necessary
  • exchanging the contract of sale
  • paying the deposit
  • arranging payment of stamp duties
  • preparing and examining the mortgage agreement
  • checking if there are outstanding arrears or land tax obligations
  • checking if swimming pool compliance documentation is needed
  • finding out if any government authority (eg. local council, water authority, RMS) has a vested interest in the land or if any planned development could affect the property
  • finding out any information that may not have been previously disclosed such as a fence dispute or illegal building work
  • calculating adjustments for council and water rates for the property settlement
  • overseeing the change of title with Land and Property Information NSW
  • completing any final checks prior to settlement
  • attending settlement.

As you can see, conveyancers play a key role in every aspect of the property transfer process. In addition, they handle all communication with the other party on your behalf, saving you stress, strain and frustration.

Contract of sale preparation (Seller)


One of the main roles of a conveyancer when selling a house is the preparation of the contract of sale for vendors. Together with the vendor’s statement, these documents set out the requirements and conditions of the sale of your home. It’s vital these are written up correctly as any errors or mistakes in the contract can result in costly issues for you down the track or even compromise your sale. When selling, conveyancers also take care of all communication with the buyer, acting on your behalf to ensure the sale runs smoothly.

Contract of sale review (Buyer)


When acting for buyers, conveyancers review the contract of sale and vendor’s statement prepared by the vendor’s conveyancer to identify any potential issues. This helps you understand each clause so you can make an informed decision about your purchase. When buying a house, your conveyancer will also guide you through the settlement process. This involves informing you of important dates (like exchange and settlement), suggesting conditions to protect your interests and explaining the terms of the contract.

Advice and Guidance


Conveyancers provide advice and guidance along the way, whether you are the buyer or the seller. When working with purchasers, especially first time buyers, conveyancers play an important educational role, interpreting contract terms and conditions and explaining the sometimes complex road to settlement. When working with sellers, conveyancers provide advice and guidance when preparing the contract and in cases where buyers ask for conditions to be added (such as a longer settlement date).

Arranging settlement


Conveyancers are key to arranging settlement and ensuring the transfer of property ownership takes place smoothly. They will contact your financial institution to ensure all the documents and details have been provided to facilitate the transfer of funds at the appointed settlement time. Conveyancers also calculate any adjustments and payments from purchaser to vendor, such as council rates that cover a period beyond the settlement date. Your conveyancer will also physically attend settlement on your behalf to ensure a smooth transfer.

Do I need a conveyancer to buy a house?


Technically, you don’t need a conveyancer to buy a house. If you have the time, skills and knowledge, there is no reason why you couldn’t manage the process yourself. However, not many people have the time, skills and knowledge to safely navigate the legalities of transferring property ownership, especially if you’re a first time buyer or seller.

With so much at stake, engaging a licensed conveyancer to provide guidance on the contract of sale, undertake the required searches and arrange settlement is highly recommended. Having a conveyancer act on your behalf and take care of the complex legal side of buying or selling your home makes things so much easier at an especially stressful time.

When to engage a conveyancer when buying a house


Ideally, it’s best to get a conveyancer before you make your first offer on a property. That way, you can access timely advice on the contract to help you make an informed decision on whether to proceed with the purchase.

If you don’t already have a conveyancer in place, the real estate agent may suggest a conveyancer they trust or regularly work with. When contacting a conveyancer, it’s vital to verify their experience and ensure they are registered with the NSW Department of Fair Trading, a member of the Australian Institute of Conveyancers or a practising lawyer or solicitor.

How much does a conveyancer cost?


The cost of conveyancing will vary. Some conveyancers charge a fixed fee for their service, while others charge by the hour. Typically, conveyancers will cost you between $500 and $2500, with the cost of disbursements an added expense. These are the fees required to secure certificates and titles to confirm any easements, covenants and caveats on the property.

Depending on the property, your conveyancer may need to cover disbursements for local council, the water authority, state authorities (such as RMS and the EPA), utilities companies and for general administration costs. Before engaging a conveyancer, talk to them about their fee structure and potential disbursements costs so you are fully informed.

When do you pay conveyancer fees?


Generally, you pay conveyancer fees as part of the settlement process. For sellers, the conveyancing fee is taken from the proceeds of the sale so you don’t have to pay any extra amount post-settlement. For buyers, conveyancing fees are payable once the property has been transferred into your name.

Who pays conveyancing fees?


Both buyers and sellers are responsible for paying conveyancing fees at the end of the property transfer process. Typically, the person or persons listed on the contract of sale will be liable for conveyancing fees, reflecting the service provided to them from the acceptance of the offer through to final settlement.

How long is the conveyancing process?


In NSW, most conveyancing processes take 42 days, or around 6 weeks. This gives conveyancers enough time to undertake their searches, get all the required documentation in order and work with the financial institutions to arrange settlement.

While 42 days is the standard timeframe, this is not guaranteed. There may be times where one party seeks a longer settlement period or there may be issues which delay the exchange of contracts.

If you have concerns about how long your conveyancing process is taking, seek clarification from your conveyancer. A good conveyancer will always keep you updated on the progress of settlement.

What documents does a conveyancer need?


To ensure the sale proceeds smoothly, conveyancers need access to a range of documents throughout the settlement process. This starts with the documents required under the NSW Conveyancing Act 1919 to sell a property, including:

  • Section 10.7 certificate (Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979)
  • Sewerage diagram
  • Pool compliance or non-compliance certificate and pool registration certificate
  • Plan of the land
  • Title search
  • Any dealings associated with the block of land
  • Bylaws (if strata)
  • Notice in respect to smoke alarms

In addition, conveyancers will prepare the following documents once an offer has been made and accepted:

  • Contract of sale
  • Vendor’s statement
  • Settlement statement
  • Transfer documents

During the conveyancing process, your conveyancers will also need access to the following information:

  • Loan contract
  • Certificate of Title

It’s important that your conveyancer has access to all relevant information to ensure your home sale or property purchase can be completed quickly and smoothly.

Is a conveyancer a lawyer? What are the differences?


Conveyancers are licensed professionals registered through the NSW Department of Fair Trading. Conveyancers may also practice law as a solicitor, but they don’t need to be a lawyer to be a conveyancing specialist.

Professional conveyancers are well versed in the legalities of property transfer and solely work in this area, giving them specialist expertise. Conveyancers are generally more affordable than solicitors, often charging a fixed fee. However, they are limited in the assistance they can provide – for instance, they can’t advise on more complex property or tax law matters.

Lawyers have a wider field of expertise, also practising property, tax, estate and family law, which means their sole focus isn’t conveyancing. As a rule, solicitors generally cost more than conveyancers, however, they are able to provide more guidance and advice, especially in more complex property and tax law matters.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you choose a solicitor or conveyancer when buying or selling property. As long as you engage a licensed conveyancer, such as East Coast Law for your property purchase or sale, the move to your new home will be an easy one.

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