What to Ask Your Lawyer When Buying or Selling Your Home

May 3rd 2019 by Andrea Kirkby

Selling Your Home Buying Your Home

Cover: article > What to ask Your Lawyer When Buying or Selling Your Home

Buying a home is the largest financial transaction in many people's lives, so it's important to ensure the transaction is properly structured. While a lawyer or conveyancer can't tell you if your new home is worth the money, they can tell you if there are any problems with title, with disputed boundaries, with planning permissions, or with unpaid debts. They'll also structure the transaction correctly so that you get clear title to the property with no problems–or they might enable you to walk away if the vendor is not acting in good faith.

If you're selling a home, your lawyers will ensure there are no repercussions if the purchaser isn't 100% happy with the property.  They'll make sure the money is paid over before your purchaser takes possession of the house.

Questions You Should Ask About the Property

First of all, the contract needs to define the property. For instance, where are the boundaries? Are there any disputed boundaries, or encumbrances such as a neighbour's access road running across the land? The contract should also define what's included and what isn't in terms of furnishings and even outbuildings. Is the shed included, or will it be taken by the seller? Do you get the fitted kitchen or the spa pool? Make sure you know. Sometimes, sellers haven't thought through these aspects so there may be a little room for negotiation. Asking these questions is critical—more information can be found here.

If you're buying off plan, you'll want to check that what you're buying is still what you expected to get for your money. Developers sometimes change contracts during the development process and might even add unfair conditions to the contract. Make sure your lawyer checks the contract out in detail.

You also need to know if there are any unpaid bills such as body corporate levies. And if you're buying an apartment or town-house in an older (pre-1961) development, you might need to deal with Company Title rather than Strata Title, a slightly different system.  

Getting planning permission can be a nightmare and some people don't bother to do it. If the property has been extended or remodelled extensively in the last ten years, ensure the vendor can show planning permission documents and that the property you see complies with the permission. Make sure that if you see, for instance, a relatively new extension, you ask your lawyer to check up on it. If there are any issues, some lawyers suggest putting a clause in the contract making settlement conditional on the seller obtaining a building certificate.

You'll need to know if anything comes up in your searches. Recently, buyers who were given wrong information ended up buying houses in the middle of a planned motorway. Real estate agents aren't obliged to tell you about future plans for the area, so one of the things your lawyers will do to protect you is to look at the town plans and any planning applications near the property you're buying.  

Questions You Should Ask About the Lawyer

You're going to need to trust your lawyer or conveyancer so it's important you get some answers about their competence and experience. But before that, you need to ask them about their indemnity insurance.

Basically, indemnity insurance exists to protect you if your lawyer makes a complete dog's breakfast of your conveyancing. Even if the firm doesn't have enough money to pay for your losses, indemnity insurance will pay out if the firm has been negligent. You need to know that this insurance is in place, and you should also ask how much the firm is covered for. More information on this can be found here.

You also want to know what technology your conveyancers are using. Some law firms are still very old school; everything's done on paper with a huge amount of posting stuff to and fro. That can be incredibly frustrating. Many firms now have real time portals and online platforms that enable you to see how things are progressing at every point. Some firms now collaborate with Aussie start-up Rundl, which includes all the parties to the transaction in an online community so that information can be quickly shared and conveyancing progressed speedily.

You also, of course, want to know about costs. Be sure that you know what costs are included and what aren't. For instance, searches and bank transfers are normally charged separately. And what happens if the transaction doesn't go according to plan? Will there be extra costs, for instance if settlement is delayed? A good firm should have no problem explaining how its charges are made up and when extra fees might be applied.

Ask Your Lawyers What They Need

Many people forget this question when they're buying or selling a property. Always ask your lawyers what they need from you. For instance, they may want copies of your mortgage documents, past building inspections, or the latest owners corporation fees, if you're selling. They will certainly want to know the best way to get hold of you if there's a problem, and they'll need to be linked in to the other parties in the transaction–your lender and estate agent. Get your documentation in order and get all the different parties involved talking to each other, and you'll have a speedier, easier, and cheaper transaction.

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