A cheap conveyancer is not concerned about whether you are making the most important purchase of your life. Your first home. Premises from which to run your business. Or that dream block of land, where you will one day build. So, after all the effort and care that has gone into choosing and financing a property, why would you skimp on professional legal advice for its purchase?
We know purchasers and vendors underrate the importance of proper legal advice for several reasons. First, consumers do not understand the potential legal problems which can arise from any property transaction or a poorly drafted contract. Second, to outsiders the conveyancing process appears deceivingly simple – “it is just paperwork” is a common belief. Third, the industry is victim to a genre of cheap, conveyor belt conveyancers, who promote the idea that a property transaction can be carried out with proper due diligence but ‘on a budget’. This notion breaches all common sense.
Real estate agents also play a role. Some encourage purchasers to use cheap conveyancers so their sales commissions appear to make less of a dent in the overall costs of a property transaction. With the exception of a handful of premium agents, most real estate firms like to settle a transaction as quickly as possible, so they can collect their commission. For them, the less checks, balances and conditions, the better. They just want that contract to go through and settle, regardless of issues with the property the buyers may have to live with.
Here’s how cheap conveyancers save costs:
- They reduce their fees by skipping important searches.
- They use inexperienced or under qualified staff to look after your matter.
- They skim over building and pest reports and don’t inquire about building certificates.
- They get clients to complete steps of the conveyancing process themselves, or omit certain steps all together.
- If there is a problem, cheap conveyancers will not tell you about it because they do not want to lose the transaction or have their fees compromised by the matter not settling. They want to see the matter settle with a minimum of fuss due to their low fees – that is why agents like using them!
- Cheap conveyancers often act for both parties in a transaction with the knowledge and support of some agents. Not only is this a serious conflict of interest, it is potentially endangering a client’s ability to obtain clear title to their property.
- On the border, a cheap licenced conveyancers may be licenced to work in NSW but regularly conduct conveyancing work in QLD. This is against the law in QLD, and there is a doubt about whether their professional indemnity insurance covers them for QLD work. Queensland lawyers must also abide by the ‘Conveyancing Protocol’ which has strict guidelines to protect client’s interests in a conveyancing transaction. Bootleg conveyancers operating from NSW in Queensland are not obliged to observe the Protocol.
- Licenced conveyancers in NSW cannot give legal advice. If there is a problem with the transaction which requires advice about breach of contract or termination, they cannot act further – you have to go and see a real lawyer if that happens!
Much of this may not seem like a big deal until a cheap conveyancer’s error has exposed you to a collapsed contract, a dud buy, or in the extreme – complete financial ruin. Sometimes costly litigation is necessary to resolve a commercial conveyancing dispute.
Recent cases where a buyer was stung by a cheap conveyancer
CASE STUDY 1: Attwood Marshall Lawyers was acting for a purchaser, while the vendor was represented by a cheap conveyancer. The cheap conveyancer failed to respond to correspondence and phone calls in order to get the matter ready for settlement. The seller had a mortgage with a bank that had to be released on settlement and no steps were taken to notify the bank or have them ready for settlement. Settlement was postponed several times resulting in extra bank interest, legal costs and storage costs for our clients, not to mention the stress and possible involvement in court action to have the contract enforced.”.
CASE STUDY 2: A couple were purchasing a property in their self managed super fund and borrowing funds which required complicated mortgage documents and a solicitor’s certificate. They used a cheap conveyancer who did not know how to handle such a transaction and told them this at the last minute before settlement was due. The couple had to book in an appointment with Attwood Marshall Lawyers to review the contract from scratch and settle the matter for them – they were in danger of being sued and losing their deposit.
CASE STUDY 3: A cheap NSW licenced conveyancer acted for both parties in a transaction (they were referred by the agent and told it would save them costs). A dispute arose which would have allowed the buyers to terminate the contract. The conveyancer attempted to smooth things over and keep the contract on foot to the clear detriment of the buyers. This was an obvious conflict of interest and typical of what can happen when you act for both parties. Both parties ended up having to go to lawyers to sort out the problem which cost many thousands of dollars to resolve. The parties would have been far better off if they had gone to their usual lawyers and their respective rights properly protected.
What does a quality property lawyer or conveyancer do?
A conveyancer oversees the settlement process in three stages:
For the buyer, a conveyancer will:
- Represent your interests with a vendor’s lawyers and their agent
- Negotiate terms of the contract and advise you about the conditions
- Calculate the adjustment of rates, water, levies and other outgoings
- Prepare, clarify and lodge legal documents for settlement
- Liaise with your bank or financier for settlement
- Attend to settle the property, advise you when the property is settled, and attend to relevant statutory notice
- Conduct searches about the property and verify its title
Consequences of not performing a satisfactory body corporate search
CASE STUDY: Attwood Marshall Lawyers recently issued proceedings for damages in the Civil Division of the Southport District Court against a Gold Coast conveyancing law firm for damages of $165,000 on behalf of a property buyer who bought a commercial unit, only to find out after the contract became unconditional that the body corporate bylaws prohibited his type of business from operating. The contract was subject to a satisfactory body corporate search to investigate these issues, but it is alleged the firm failed to carry out these searches. Had the search been done, it is alleged the buyer could have terminated the contract and received a refund of his deposit. He was instead forced to complete the contract and resell the property.
How Attwood Marshall Lawyers can help you with your conveyancing needs
No two transactions are alike and any contract can throw up various legal issues which your legal representative should consider and advise on with great care. You should look beyond quotes and ask yourself how important the property being purchased is, before deciding whether a cheap conveyancer is best to oversee its transaction.
- Our dedicated Property and Commercial Department practices exclusively in property law.
- It is led by a senior solicitor and partner of the firm, who instructs and supervises our paralegals and licenced conveyancers.
- The department regularly draws upon the expertise of the entire Attwood Marshall Lawyers firm, in areas such as Commercial Litigation, Family Law, and Wills and Estates, for legal advice.
- Our offices are conveniently located at Brisbane, Robina Town Centre, Coolangatta (The Strand) and Kingscliff (Pearl St, NSW). We are able to help buyers and vendors with NSW settlements in Qld and vice versa.
- We provide FREE contract pre-signing advice.
- One experienced staff member will be available to you 24/7, on the phone and on email, to oversee your transaction from beginning to end.
- That dedicated staff member will ensure all relevant building certificates, council approvals, titles for your transaction are completed and perform all the relevant entity searches.
- Our team will methodically asses every line in your contract to make sure it is legally sound and specific to your needs and explain every term and condition in your contract so you understand it.
- If there are legal problems or unfairness in your contract, we pick up those issues before it’s too late, to protect your finances, your asset and long term plans.
- We step in and take whatever proceedings are necessary to protect your interests whether it be terminating a contract or by keeping a party to its obligations under the contract by way of specific performance.
Do not choose a cheap conveyancer to handle what is likely to be one of the most important transactions in your life. Call Attwood Marshall Lawyers for an appointment. Our Property and Commercial Department Manager Emily Spinks is available on 07 5506 8214 and at [email protected]
What if things go wrong with a property transaction?
If you have discovered a problem with your contract or settlement and wish to escalate your problem, a conveyancer is not qualified to handle legal disputes and must refer you to a lawyer. Contact Commercial Litigation Department Manager and Senior Paralegal, Amanda Heather, on direct line 07 5506 8245, email [email protected]