A conveyancer can cut through the legal jargon and red tape associated with buying a home, thereby taking some of the stress out of the process. They might also have a better understanding of legalities to be cautious of when purchasing property, such as easements, caveats, or covenants. But what else does a conveyancer do and do you need one? Read on to decide for yourself.

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal action of moving the official ownership of the land title to a new owner. This new owner can be either a person or an entity, like a small business. It involves preparing, verifying, and lodging the various legal documents associated with home buying and selling, as well as preparing the property for settlement.

As you can imagine, this process is far from simple. A conveyancing transaction typically consists of three stages:

  • Pre-contract: A conveyancer will prepare documents relevant to the transfer of ownership, such as a contract of sale

  • Pre-completion: They will then ensure there are no legal red flags and that everything checks out with the property’s title

  • Post-completion: Finally, they’ll ensure the sale is completed and that you’re good to go

Not handing in the appropriate paperwork associated with these stages, correctly completed, by the required dates can result in your contract being voided. That could see you miss out on your dream home, perhaps even forfeiting any deposit you’ve paid.

What does a conveyancer do?

A conveyancer is a trained and accredited professional who provides advice and information related to the transfer of property ownership and assists buyers and sellers through the process. They’ll organise all the appropriate documentation required for settlement, communicate with lenders, and provide advice where possible.

Solicitors can also act as conveyancers. Indeed, some states demand all conveyancing work is overseen or completed by a solicitor. A solicitor is also, by definition, a lawyer. Thus, they can often provide advice on a greater variety of topics and might be better suited to manage the legalities of complicated property transactions. On the other hand, a solicitor will typically charge more than a conveyancer to do the same conveyancing work.

It’s recommended you use a conveyancer (or solicitor) when:

  • Buying or selling land

  • Updating a title (e.g. if someone on the title passes away​​​​​​)

  • Subdividing land

  • Registering, changing, or removing an easement (a right to use the land)

After hiring a conveyancer, they can help:

  • Check the property for any issues that might infringe on regulations or a buyer (such as unapproved structures or easements)

  • Prepare and examine the contract of sale

  • Advise and manage the deposit payment, stamp duty, and other property ownership transfer costs

  • Organise a land survey to ensure the boundaries of the property are accurately represented

Prior to hiring a conveyancer, you can check out the Australian Institute of Conveyancers – the peak body representing registered, licensed, and practising conveyancers in Australia – to see if your preferred professional is a part of their database. If you’re looking to buy or sell property in Queensland or the ACT, you might want to check out the Queensland Law Society or the ACT Law Society instead.

It’s also worth noting, a conveyancer is legally required to have professional indemnity insurance when they work. This protects the conveyancer if they were to make a mistake or omission that could result in their customer taking legal action against them.

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Do I need a conveyancer or can I do it myself?

A buyer or seller isn’t legally required to turn to a conveyancer in Australia, though it is generally recommended that they do. DIY conveyancing can save you a lot of money, with kits available for up to a few hundred dollars.

However, real estate laws and property ownership can be highly complex. Not adhering to the law or failing to meet specific deadlines throughout the process can have serious consequences, extending to losing your deposit or even your home.

Remember, just because you can go it alone doesn’t mean you should. Conveyancers are professionals for a reason and more often than not it’ll be well worth the money to lean on one through the buying or selling process. Although much cheaper upfront, DIY-ing your legal obligations could turn out to be incredibly expensive if done incorrectly.

Conveyancer vs solicitor: What's the difference?

You can't actually hire a conveyancer who isn’t also a solicitor in Queensland or the ACT – all conveyancers operating there must first be solicitors. Elsewhere in Australia, you'll be given a choice between hiring a solicitor or conveyancer.

While conveyancers are trained and accredited professionals with a high level of expertise in their field, they are often limited in the services they can provide. A conveyancer who isn’t also a solicitor can’t provide advice on matters of property law or assist you with the terms of your sales contract and tax, for example.

Additionally, should a legal dispute or issue arise during the settlement process, they won’t be able to help you, whereas a solicitor probably could. Inversely, a solicitor may be a jack of all trades and master of none – they might not be an expert in conveyancing and simply offer it as a service. A solicitor could also sting your wallet more. Conveyancers typically charge a flat fee while a solicitor will usually charge by the hour.

Generally speaking, hiring a conveyancer is recommended if your property sale or purchase is pretty straightforward, you don't need any advice on property law, or you want a bit more support throughout the process. Conveyancers are experts at getting a property sale over the line and might focus on you a bit more than a solicitor can. On the other hand, a solicitor may be more suited to your needs if the property sale is going to be complex, you want advice or help with complex legal matters, or you don't mind the extra pocket pinch.

How much does a conveyancer cost?

Conveyancing costs can vary massively based on the conveyancer. The services on offer also vary between conveyancers and their duties might differ between states and territories. For a ballpark figure: Conveyancing fees typically range from $500 to $2,500 and most conveyancers charge a flat fee.

Though, a person buying or selling property might face additional expenses known as disbursement costs. They’re costs incurred by a conveyancer through the process of transferring your property that you’ll ultimately get billed for. For example, those buying property in NSW might face disbursement costs for things like:

  • Title searches

  • Building certificates

  • Drainage diagrams

  • Council rate enquiries

  • Local council pool compliance or non-compliance certificates

The above list is by no means exhaustive and considers costs likely to be charged in NSW only. Though, it provides some insight into the charges a person buying or selling property could run into. Make sure you get a clear breakdown of a conveyancer's costs prior to signing on the dotted line so you know you’re getting value for money.

How to find a good conveyancer

Like members of all professions, not all conveyancers are created equal. Here’s what a good one should do:

  • Research titles and records: Property contracts and title deeds are incredibly important documents and a good conveyancer will meticulously pore over these to ensure there are no dodgy conditions or terms that you might not have seen. They’ll also clearly define the rights and obligations of the buyers and sellers to allow for a smooth transfer of ownership.

  • Give expert advice: A good conveyancer will proactively help you and provide their insight on the conveyancing process, rather than expecting you to ask the right questions. They should give you expert and practical advice at each step of the process.

  • Be quick and efficient: There are numerous essential and immoveable timeframes associated with property sales. A good conveyancer will adhere to these and finish the transaction in a timely manner.

  • Charge a fixed rate: Dealing with a conveyancer rather than a solicitor will typically afford you a fixed cost instead of an hourly rate. A trustworthy conveyancer will have a clear breakdown of their costs and charge a fixed fee.

Ask a potential conveyancer about each of these things before committing to their services.

Savings.com.au’s two cents

Although not as glamorous or infamous as real estate agents, conveyancers play an extremely important role in the purchase and sale of a home. Transferring property ownership can seem like an endless sea of red tape. Employing a trustworthy and qualified professional to navigate the bureaucracy could end up being an excellent investment.

Throughout the home buying process, you can also consult the expertise of the following entities:

  • Property valuer: Responsible for carrying out inspections of residential and commercial properties to determine their current market value

  • Buyer’s agent: Provides the qualifications, knowledge and expert negotiation skills to find a good property based on certain specifications for the best price

  • Mortgage broker: Works on the borrower’s behalf to arrange the appropriate finance for them to purchase their home

Originally published by Alex Brewster on 17 May 2021, updated by Brooke Cooper on 16 October 2023.

Photo by Freshh Connection on Unsplash

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