Melanie Hearse - 21 Aug, 2019

Understanding conveyancing and how it works

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It’s a commonly used term, but many people are unaware of what conveyancing actually means. What does a conveyancer do, what do they cost and is it possible to DIY the process? Here’s your handy guide to all things conveyancing.

Buying or selling a home often comes with a lot of new jargon and job titles to learn. When first starting out, it can be tricky to separate what’s essential and what’s optional – especially when this can depend on a variety of factors such as where you live and the type of property.

Conveyancing is one of these terms. Join us as we talk to Ellen Orton from OpenAgent to get the lowdown on the process including what a conveyancer does, when you might need one, and how to find a great one.

What is conveyancing? What do conveyancers do?

Conveyancing is the transfer of a title of land (property) from one person or entity to another. This can be performed by a lawyer, a conveyancer, or individual.

Orton explains a conveyancer’s role is to help transfer the legal ownership of a property, including the preparation and lodging of all the legal documents. Documents involved in the transaction could include the contract of sale and the transfer of land document.

They also conduct vital searches that can reveal new information about the property – think planning restrictions and zoning regulations or unapproved construction on the land. Many also provide advice on other house buying elements such as how to arrange building/pest inspections and how to pay stamp duties.

According to Orton, conveyancers can also help streamline and manage much of the financial side of buying or selling a home. This could include keeping the buyer’s deposit money in a trust account, working out how to adjust the rates and taxes between buyer and seller, and liaising with banks and other financiers.

The three stages to conveyancing

Orton says that when it comes to conveyancing there are three stages, although a conveyancer, solicitor or an individual can do any of them.

Stage 1: Before your contract is signed

Before signing can occur, your contract has to be reviewed. At this stage, any changes are negotiated, and any required reports are ordered (building, strata, etc.).

On the day of the contract exchange, your conveyancer or solicitor will ensure you have the contract to sign and will send the contract to the other party’s lawyer on your behalf.

Stage 2: Between exchange and settlement

In the process between exchange and settlement, everything is checked and organised. Any remaining reports are organised, settlement figures are finalised, and your conveyancer/solicitor will liaise with your lender to ensure your finances are in order. The paperwork required to transfer ownership will also be prepared.

Stage 3: The day of settlement

On the day of the settlement, your conveyancer or solicitor will attend the settlement on your behalf to ensure all the documents are in order. After this, settlement monies will be paid and you will then be given the official notice that the property is officially yours.

Do you need a solicitor or conveyancer?

Both solicitors and conveyancers are capable of handling the simple sale of a home however, they have different qualifications, experience, and fee scales.

According to Orton, conveyancers specialize in property-related law. In order to be qualified, they need to complete a minimum of two years of tertiary study in this area as well as complete two years of supervised practical experience. Conveyancers generally charge a fixed fee.

Solicitors often practice in many areas of law and will have undertaken six months of property law study during their degree. They are not required to have any practical training in conveyancing, however, according to Orton many will use a law clerk or licensed conveyancer to complete the transaction for them. Solicitors tend to charge by the hours and are, therefore, usually more expensive.

While both can oversee straightforward property transactions, Orton says you’ll need a solicitor to deal with more complex legal issues. Conveyancers are not licensed to take legal action on your behalf or to deal with complicated property matters.

Doing it yourself

If you feel you’re up to the job, Orton says there is no legal obligation to obtain a conveyancer or solicitor.

“You can use a D-I-Y conveyancing kit, which is likely to be a cheaper option, costing between $80 and $150 versus around $700 to $2,000 for a conveyancer or lawyer,” she says.

However, this decision should be thought about carefully. Buying or selling a property is a serious and involved transaction, and Orton says you should weigh up how much time and expertise you bring to the table. If you are ill-prepared for the job, you might find the experience overwhelming and ultimately end up taking on a conveyancer anyway.

“Professional conveyancers or solicitors usually subscribe to a range of property information services – meaning they can perform the required searches more effectively,” says Orton.

“They’re skilled in the various terms and procedures, and their past experience allows them to quickly assess and action the requirements of your transaction.”

How do I find a good conveyancer?

Given conveyancers are licensed, qualified professionals, it’s important you check out their credentials and professional memberships. Conveyancers don’t have to be qualified lawyers, although solicitors often do conveyancing work. Orton says requirements differ across the states and territories as follows:


In Queensland and the Australian Captial Territory, conveyancing licenses are not recognised and conveyancing can only be undertaken by registered solicitors. The solicitor and law firm must hold a current practicing certificate and have professional indemnity insurance.


In New South Wales, all conveyancers must be licensed with NSW Fair Trading and have professional indemnity insurance. This is to protect you if they make a mistake or are negligent. Those with an unrestricted license may work across residential, commercial and rural properties.


In the Northern Territory, conveyancers must be licensed under the Agents Licensing Act and are able to perform conveyancing across residential, commercial and rural properties. In special circumstances, a conveyancer may also be able to provide additional services relating to leases, mortgages and the sale of businesses.


In South Australia, conveyancers must be registered under the Conveyancers Act 1994 and for businesses registered under the Act, all partners must also be registered.


In Tasmania, conveyancers must have the relevant qualifications, work experience, and evidence of professional indemnity insurance to obtain a mandatory license.


In Victoria, conveyancers must be licensed by the Business Licensing Authority which is part of the Department of Justice. Companies and individuals must both be licensed and, in the case of businesses, at least one director must be a licensed conveyancer. In Victoria, licenses also provide indemnity insurance.


In WA, conveyancers are more commonly referred to as settlement agents. They must be licensed by the Department of Commerce and they must operate under the Settlement Agents Act 1981.

When it comes to finding a licensed conveyancer or solicitor, Orton recommends searching through the relevant licensing body in your area or asking for recommendations through friends, family or your real estate agent.

Words by Melanie Hearse

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