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Do you need a solicitor when buying a house?

If you’re buying a property, you may need some help with the legal aspects of your purchase. Let’s take a look at who can assist you and what they can help with.

May 2023 - 3 minute read

Do you need a solicitor when buying a house?

When you purchase a new home, a carefully reviewed and negotiated contract could help protect you from potential issues during and after the purchase process. You can undertake this yourself, but using an experienced legal professional could give you peace of mind and help you avoid potential issues.


The conveyancing process includes reviewing the contract of sale and officially transferring ownership of the house from the seller to the buyer on settlement day. Engaging the services of a solicitor or conveyancer will give you an additional set of eyes to check all the necessary clauses and conditions in the contract.


Here’s what you should know about using a solicitor or conveyancing lawyer.


What’s the difference between a solicitor and a conveyancer?

A conveyancer is someone who takes care of the legal aspects of a property transaction. They negotiate the conditions of sale on your behalf and ensure you meet all of the legal requirements for transferring the property into your name. They'll also prepare and lodge the legal documents for the property purchase and review the contract of sale.


Solicitors have undertaken a law degree and hold a practising certificate. They generally have specialised knowledge and experience in law and if your property transaction has complexities you may want to seek the services of a property solicitor. They can also advise you on legal matters outside of the property transaction that may affect you, such as the stamp duty or tax implications of the purchase. If you choose to use a solicitor, it's a good idea to select one who specialises in property or conveyancing.


If your property transaction is straightforward, you may want to use a licensed conveyancer (also known as a settlement agent in Western Australia). Conveyancers are equipped to take care of the legal process of a property transaction.


What can a conveyancer or solicitor help with when purchasing a property?

Conveyancers and solicitors can help with many aspects of purchasing a home. Before you consider signing a contract, they can advise you on any issues with the house you’re thinking about buying. This could help you avoid mistakes and save you time, stress, and money during your property hunt.


Conveyancers and solicitors can:


  • Act as your representative throughout the sale and liaise with the vendor on your behalf.
  • Source the certificate of title for your property and check there are no title ‘defects’ that may affect your use of the property.
  • Oversee the contract of sale. This includes adding in any special conditions such as inclusions and exclusions on your behalf.
  • Check the title for easements, covenants, and caveats. These may affect your right to access parts of your land; affect the changes you can make to the property; or modify your ownership.
  • Liaise with local council and government on your behalf.
  • Negotiate any changes to the contract following pre-purchase inspections or pre-settlement inspections.
  • Represent you on settlement day. This involves overseeing the money transactions for the purchase.
  • Calculate and arrange payment for any unpaid rates or land tax owing on the house on your behalf.
  • Prepare and lodge documents for the transfer of sale.
  • Settle the property and source a new certificate of title showing your ownership.


Who can support you with the conveyancing process in Australia?

In Australia, conveyancers, solicitors, and (in Western Australia) settlement agents can support you in in the conveyancing process, except for a few states where conveyancing must be carried out by a solicitor.


In each state, conveyancing practitioners have different scopes of work they can help you with. You can check this on Australian Registrars National Electronic Conveyancing Council.


You can also undertake conveyancing yourself (more on that below).


A settlement agent, conveyancer or solicitor can undertake conveyancing in:

  • Northern Territory
  • New South Wales
  • South Australia
  • Tasmania
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia


A solicitor must be used for property transactions in:

  • Australian Capital Territory
  • Queensland


Which costs more – a solicitor or conveyancer?

The cost of a professional conveyancer and solicitor can be similar if the sale process isn’t complicated.


If your purchase is complex or requires further negotiations or special conditions, the fee could be higher and you may want to opt for a solicitor. For example, your lawyer might need to spend extra time negotiating compensation for you if a special condition hasn’t been met by the seller at the pre-settlement inspection. 


Some conveyancers and property solicitors have a fixed-price structure, while others charge by the minute or hour.


Conveyancing fees can be anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the purchase, the fee structure, and how much time the conveyancer spends on the transaction. A solicitor is often only several hundred dollars more than a conveyancer. It always pays to compare apples with apples, so make sure you ask questions about what you’re getting for their fee.


Questions to ask your conveyancer about their fees:


  • What is your fee structure?
  • Will you communicate additional costs to me as they are incurred?
  • Can you give me a quote for your services?
  • Do you have professional indemnity insurance?


Remember, just like hiring any other contractor, it can be a good idea to shop around. Not only to get good value, but to find the professional with the right knowledge and experience for your situation.


Ask for recommendations from friends or family who have used legal professionals in the past, and check to see if they are members of professional membership bodies such as the Australian Institute of Conveyancers.


To get a picture of where conveyancing sits in the overall costs of the home-buying process, read our guide to the Cost of Selling a House.


What's the cost of selling a house?

From real estate agent fees and conveyancing, to lender fees - if you're an Australian homeowner, here are the selling costs and fees you need to budget for.

Cost of selling a house

When to engage a solicitor or conveyancer

Each state has different rules on when to appoint a conveyancer, but it’s recommended that you appoint one when you have decided on a property and are ready to sign the sale contract. There are many advantages to doing this. Your conveyancer can:


  • Recommend any pre-purchase inspections to include in the conditions of sale
  • Notify you of any title defects at the outset before you make an offer
  • Notify you of any easements, covenants and caveats that might affect your offer
  • Advise you on adding special conditions such as inclusions and exclusions


The housing market can be competitive. If you find your dream home, the real estate agent may ask you to make your offer on a contract of sale. Typically, you'll be asked to provide the details of your solicitor or conveyancer and although this is optional, it could be an advantage to have these details ready.


If you’re looking at buying your first home, next home or an investment property, the links below can help you.


How to buy a house

From house-hunting to signing the contract and settlement, we're with you every step of the way.

How to buy a house

How much can I borrow

Check what you could afford to repay on a home loan with our Affordability Calculator or estimate how much you could borrow with our Maximum Loan Calculator.

How much could you borrow?

Home loan repayments calculator

Estimate your home loan repayments. Adjust your loan amount, loan term and interest rate, plus see how you could pay your loan off faster.

Repayments calculator

What about DIY conveyancing?

In most states, it is not a legal requirement to use the services of a solicitor or conveyancer to buy a house. Some states even offer DIY conveyancing kits.


These kits can cost as little as $80, but property law can be complex and it’s recommended that you seek professional advice to ensure you don’t make any mistakes. Buying a house could be one of the most important decisions you’ll make, so it's good to have an experienced professional on your side.


To sum up

  • A property solicitor or conveyancer can help you with the legal work involved in the home-buying process, from reviewing the contract of sale to the settlement process.
  • It can be a good idea to appoint a solicitor or conveyancer when you have decided on a property and are ready to sign the sale contract.
  • You do not need a conveyancer or solicitor to buy or sell a house, but it could be a good idea. They'll be able to help you with any legal issues, provide advice, and assist you with your due diligence.

Quick tips, handy tools, and resources

How much can I borrow?

Check what you could afford to repay on a home loan with our Affordability Calculator or estimate how much you could borrow with our Maximum Loan Calulcator.


Home loan interest rates

Get a tailored snapshot of our home loan interest rates and compare home loan features.


Home loan repayment calculator

Estimate your home loan repayments. Adjust your loan amount, loan term and interest rate, plus see how you could pay your loan off faster.


Things you should know

This information is general in nature and has been prepared without taking your objectives, needs and overall financial situation into account. For this reason, you should consider the appropriateness of the information to your own circumstances and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Credit provided by Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL and Australian credit licence 233714.

Key Fact Sheet for Home Loans