Do you need a lawyer to buy a house?

ALASDAIR DUNCAN

Settling the purchase of a property and transferring ownership is a multifaceted process, and depending on where you are in Australia, a solicitor or conveyancer may be able to help you through it. It is important to know who these people are, what specifically they do and how they can help you when it comes to purchasing a property.

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the process of transferring the legal title of a property from the current owner to a new one. There are several responsibilities that can come along with the job, including:

  • sourcing certificates of title for a property;
  • overseeing legal documents such as the contracts of sale;
  • liaising with governments and local councils;
  • representing buyers and sellers on settlement day.

Conveyancing specialists can also assist a buyer with other things related to purchasing a house, such as arranging building and pest inspections and surveys of the land, and even chasing outstanding rates and utility bills associated with the property.

Who does conveyancing in Australia?

In general, there are two types of professionals who can do conveyancing – solicitors (sometimes with the assistance of paralegals) or conveyancers. In the majority of Australian states and territories, you can engage a conveyancer to conduct conveyancing for you, however, in some, only registered solicitors can undertake this process.

Who can do conveyancing in each state and territory?

At the time of writing, in Australia, conveyancing can be done by:

  • Australian Capital Territory: a solicitor
  • New South Wales: a conveyancer or solicitor
  • Northern Territory: a conveyancer or solicitor
  • Queensland: a solicitor
  • South Australia: a conveyancer or solicitor
  • Tasmania: a conveyancer or solicitor
  • Victoria: a conveyancer or solicitor
  • Western Australia: a conveyancer or solicitor

Do you need a lawyer or conveyancer to buy a house?

It is not a legal requirement to engage the services of a professional conveyancer in Australia. If you wish, you can undertake the process yourself, with Victoria and Queensland offering DIY conveyancing kits that typically cost between $80 and $150.

Professional conveyancing can cost anywhere from $499 to $3,000 and above, so while DIY conveyancing may save you money, it can be risky, and depending on the complexity of the transaction, will likely involve a great deal more than filling out forms.

Because the legal complexity involved in conveyancing is significant, and the amounts of money and work associated are typically large, it is generally advisable to very seriously consider speaking to a professional, especially since any mistake you make could prove to be costly.

When would you need a lawyer or conveyancer when buying a house?

In the current, competitive housing market, some real estate agents may ask you to make your offer for a property on a contract of sale. Although optional at this point, this document will likely ask you to include the details of your solicitor or conveyancer, so it may be wise to have one lined up at the house-hunting state. Similarly, you may choose to send the contract to your solicitor before you sign it, to make sure the details are all in order.

What else can a lawyer do for you when buying a house?

Aside from assisting with conveyancing, there are other things a lawyer can potentially do for you when buying a house. These can include such things as:

  • going through your contracts to make sure there are no unfair terms or other surprises;
  • advising you of any risks that may be associated with the property purchase;
  • assisting you in understanding such things as land taxes, mortgage insurance and any other liabilities that may arise;
  • liaising with the seller or their solicitor in order to address any issues that may arise before settlement;
  • carrying out due diligence such as land contamination searches, which are not part of a standard building and pest inspection;
  • helping you negotiate a discount on the purchase price of the house if your building and pest inspection reveals asbestos or some other defect;
  • carrying out searches to find out about any major infrastructure or developments planned for your area;
  • Requesting extensions to due dates in the contract, such as for conditions including building and pest reports and any finance clauses.

While it is not required by law that you engage the services of a lawyer or conveyancer when buying a house, doing so is generally advisable, as they are trained professionals who can assist you with the complexities of property transactions, and alert you to any possible pitfalls in the sale process.

Article sub edited by Milan Cuk.

Cover image source: Fizkes/Shutterstock.com


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