Property Settlement Process Explained

The property settlement process may be fairly easy to understand, but that doesn’t make it any less complicated. There are numerous steps involved to make sure that the property transaction is entirely legal and above board. Understanding a bit about the process before you enter into the negotiations is wise, as it will ease some of the concerns you may have about it all.

Also, making sure you have the right team by your side in terms of the real estate agent and conveyancer or solicitor will also take much of the load off. Now, let’s go through the property settlement process step-by-step.

To ensure you have the right support behind you when it comes to selling your property, speak to Which Real Estate Agent, Australia’s most trusted source of agent information.

Table of Contents

What is property settlement?

Property settlement is the legal process that is undertaken to transfer the ownership of a property to another person during a sale. The initial process is undertaken by your nominated solicitor or conveyancer as they are qualified and licensed to handle the legalities of buying and selling properties. On the final day of settlement, a meeting will be conducted by your finance manager and settlement agent, carried out on the nominated date and time as per the contract of sale. It can occur anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, or 30 to 90 days, after the contract of sale has been signed depending on the agreed timeframe. Any less than four weeks is generally not feasible, as there is a lot to do during this period.

Naturally, the buyer will need time to get their finances in order and you, as the seller, will have to ensure that the property is up to par. You will also need to make sure you have made the necessary arrangements for removal or storage of the furniture. Both sets of representatives will sign all the necessary paperwork and then it will be forwarded to the respective title office in your state or territory. The day of the property settlement is also the day you receive the balance of the payment from the purchaser, and the sale is subsequently finalised to completion.

For clarity, here are some of the necessary steps involved:

  • The contract will be inspected for accuracy and all parties will ensure that all clauses are met
  • All paperwork will need to be completed and filed well before settlement day (make sure you’re on top of the ATO clearance certificate!)
  • A title search will be conducted and all measurements and boundaries noted
  • A property valuation may need to be carried out by the mortgage broker
  • Any existing debts on the property will be settled
  • All taxes and rates up to the settlement date will be paid
  • The land transfer duty fees will be paid
  • The final transfer of the property will take place
  • The documents are lodged with the applicable land registration authorities
  • The new owner takes possession of the property

When you understand what the property settlement requires in extensive detail, it instantly takes much of the stress out of the equation. Financial institutions and solicitors understand precisely what the process entails as they conduct settlement transactions on a daily basis. Knowing this can make everything seem much more manageable.

Why do I need a conveyancer or solicitor?

Hiring a conveyancer or solicitor is in your best interests as they already understand the legal requirements needed to sell a house. While it is something you can take on yourself, unless you are willing to do all the negotiations with the necessary government entities, it is more straightforward to leave it in the hands of the professionals. They will meet with your mortgage financier to ensure that all the required documentation is signed, removing your name and mortgage from the title certificate and transferring it to the new owner.

As part of the process, your conveyancer will also advise you how much you will need to pay regarding rates, taxes and stamp duty up to and including the date of sale.

For the sake of the fee, which usually averages between $700 and $1,300, we believe that the professional assistance you receive from a conveyancer or solicitor as part of their services is well worth the price.

Do I have to attend the property settlement signing?

The answer is no. The settlement can be completed by your financial and legal representative, so you don’t even have to attend the actual signing process personally. Any paperwork which needs your signature prior to the final day of settlement will already have been sought. The property settlement signing can be done on your behalf through your conveyancer or solicitor. Your nominated representatives will meet with the buyer’s representatives to complete the final logistics. Your loan will be settled, and the purchaser’s mortgage will be attached to the house.

There is nothing for you to do except wait to hear from your solicitor letting you know that the transfer has taken place. Once all the loose ends have been tied up and you have received the good news that the house has been sold, it is time to hand your keys over to the new owners so they can take possession of their property.

How can I prepare for settlement?

If you are the seller, then your list of things to do will differ from that of the buyer. You each have your own set of responsibilities and a checklist of things to do to ensure that settlement will happen promptly and on time. If everyone is on the same page and the communication between all parties is top notch, then all should go according to plan.

From the seller’s perspective:

Most of the hard work will have already been carried out during the pre-contract signing stage. All property title searches, investigations, special conditions, finance arrangements, and deposits will have previously been determined.

At this point, the most important thing you can do to prepare for property settlement is to make sure your settlement agent and finance manager are available to complete the sale on your behalf. As the actual settlement date is agreed at the time the contracts are signed, and after the cooling off period has ended, you will know the date well in advance.

It is imperative that you make sure you have completed all the necessary finance documentation so the bank loan can be paid off and the property transfer can go ahead in your absence.

Other than that, there isn’t a great deal for you to do. Of course, you want to ensure that all your furniture and other belongings are removed from the house, and you have suitable accommodation lined up. Once the property settlement occurs, the keys will be handed over and the home will be under new ownership.

The buyer will want to do a final inspection of the property a day or two before the settlement to ensure it meets all agreements as noted in the contract. This is to safeguard their purchase and ensure that things such as fixtures, fittings, and carpets are as they should be. It pays to be prepared and not leave things to the last minute.

From the buyer’s perspective:

Buying a property is an exciting time in your life. Before the day of settlement comes around you will definitely have a few things to cross off your to-do list. For starters, you will want to inspect the house to make sure that everything is as it should be. Check all the items listed in the property contract to ensure they are still there, and in working order not including any standard wear and tear. If there are discrepancies, then you will need to reach out to the seller immediately.

You will also need to arrange building and contents insurance from the day of settlement. Give yourself plenty of time to shop around to find an insurance plan that works for you and covers your home and precious valuables. Your conveyancer or solicitor will send you the plan of the property so you can make sure that the measurements and boundaries noted in the document are in fact correct. If there are any issues, then you need to let them know as soon as possible.

Once your legal and finance representatives have met with the property seller’s professional team on the day of settlement, a mortgage will be created in your name and attached to the property, less any agreed deposit. The deed of ownership will be amended to show that you are the new owner. In the case that there is a delay of a day or two at the settlement stage, it is recommended that you don’t arrange for furniture to be moved into the property on the same day as the signing. Otherwise, it could become a logistical nightmare if something does go wrong.

However, in most cases, the whole event will run smoothly; but, it always pays to err on the side of caution. Once the signing is complete, and the documents have been submitted to the necessary government offices, all you have to do is pick up the keys and move in.

What will happen on the day of settlement?

On the agreed day and time of settlement noted on your property contract, your legal representative will meet with your mortgage lender and the buyer’s legal and financial representatives to complete the documentation transfer. Together they will arrange for the balance of your loan to be paid off, and the buyer’s property mortgage will be registered against the property title.

Any expenses up to and including the day of the property settlement process will be included in your final tally. All future property outgoings will be handed over to the new owner. Your solicitor will make sure that all necessary property taxes, land transfer duty, and water rates are paid and that everything has been calculated and paid for down to the last dollar.

When everything is settled, the transfer documents will be completed and lodged directly with the land registration office as per state and government law. If all goes to plan, you can then hand the property keys over to the buyer and they can now legally take ownership of the property.

Can anything go wrong on the settlement day?

As with any legal process, things can and do go wrong. But, if that does occur, your conveyancer or solicitor is more than qualified enough to handle it. If problems arise, it is usually to do with lack of communication, inability to make the nominated appointment, missing documents or minor bank errors which can be quickly rectified.

Take your time and go through all the documentation with a fine tooth comb to ensure that everything is complete. If something is overlooked, any inconsistencies may not be noted until the final settlement day which can prolong the process. In all likelihood, most settlement issues can be cleared up on the same day or the next day at the very latest, and the keys can be handed over without too much of a delay. Make sure that you are on top of everything at all times.

Always stay in regular touch with your real estate agent, bank, and solicitor throughout the whole settlement process. Make sure that they understand your expectations very clearly.

If you need to change the date of settlement for some unexpected or urgent reason, it can be done. But, only if the buyer agrees to the new terms you have put on the table. It is well within their rights to turn you down and flatly deny your new offer. After all, contracts have already been agreed and signed.

Of course, the more notice for such a drastic measure, the better, as it will evidently affect everyone involved: the buyer and the real estate agent, as well as both sets of financial institutions and solicitors or conveyancers.

There is nothing that will stop the sale of the property from proceeding at this stage of the game due to the fact that the signed contract is legally binding. As the settlement is carried out once the contract has been signed by you and the intended buyer, and the cooling period has ended, the sale must go ahead.

Worse-case scenario, if the seller pulls out of the deal at the last moment, then there will be expensive repercussions, and financial compensation will have to be given. In all likelihood, the terms for defaulting on your contract will have been noted and agreed on. If you are unsure, refer back to your specific sale contract for all the details.

Realistically, as your solicitor or conveyancer is paid to ensure that all goes smoothly, there will unlikely be any issues on the settlement day or once the transaction has gone through.

If you are waiting on settlement of another property, it is always pertinent to have some backup accommodation arranged just in case. You don’t want to be searching around last minute for somewhere to stay because of some minor clerical error.

What happens once the settlement is complete?

The money you receive from the sale, less any money owed to the bank, will be debited to your nominated account. This is now yours to enjoy. Your conveyancer or solicitor will notify you when the change of ownership is complete. The bank will also present you with a full breakdown of your loan payments, interest and any penalties which were necessary to be paid to finalise your mortgage debt.

The new owner should by now have arranged adequate insurance on the property and can move in at their leisure.

Conclusion

So that’s it in a nutshell. The best thing you can do is just to take each aspect of the settlement as it comes. If you aren’t expecting it to go through in a hurry and your professional support team is assisting you every step of the way, then that can minimise the stress. Trying the handle the property settlement process all alone is possible, although it can turn into a logistical nightmare with all the things that need to be done, checked and double-checked.

Your focus should be firmly fixed on the new chapter and whatever plans lie ahead in the future. Selling a house can raise your anxiety levels ten-fold if you are not organised, but it can also be incredibly exhilarating. We wish you the best of luck when it comes to the sale of your house and the entire property settlement process.

To find the best agent for your property, speak to the friendly and efficient team at Which Real Estate Agent. We can also provide a free property value estimate and market report to give you a head start on the sale process.