With the exception of Queensland, where conveyancing work is the sole domain of lawyers, licensed conveyancers offer their services across Australia. In Western Australia however, the title is settlement agents, rather than conveyancers. The primary difference between conveyancers and lawyers is the level of qualifications and training. To obtain an unrestricted practising certificate as an Australian lawyer, a person typically studies a four year Bachelor of Laws degree at university, followed by a one year Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice and two years’ of supervised legal practice. For registration as a conveyancer, a person typically completes a 12 month TAFE course, whilst obtaining 12 months of work experience.
Conveyancers will therefore typically charge a little less than lawyers for their services, but it is important to note that conveyancers are not qualified to give legal advice. Beware of engaging the services of a conveyancer operating from home or from a serviced office. It is prudent to engage a conveyancing firm with the financial capacity to maintain a properly staffed, professional office.
In Victoria, Consumer Affairs Victoria maintains a public register of conveyancers online. The information in the public register includes the licensee’s full name and licence number, the address of the principal place of business of the conveyancer, the licensee’s ABN. In NSW, the Department of Fair Trading operates an online conveyancers licence check. In South Australia, the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs operates an online facility to check conveyancers registration. In Western Australia, the Department of Commerce maintains a search facility for settlement agent licences.
Recommendations are often a good way of choosing a conveyancer or lawyer. Conveyancing services offered in Australia vary dramatically, from the cheap and nasty (typically charging a heavily-discounted fee, usually with add-on extras and poor attention to detail) right through to quality-assured, customer-focussed law firms and top-end conveyancing practices. How do you tell the difference? Make a short-list of prospective conveyancers and give them a call – ask questions and form an impression. Check if they are quality-assured and whether they are members of the Australian Institute of Conveyancers. Avoid conveyancers quoting anything less than about $650 – if they’re spending such little time safeguarding your interests, then you can’t afford them! Cut out the middleman – don’t bother using quote sites that simply gouge referral fees from the conveyancers and lawyers desperate enough to pay for referrals. Also beware of ‘free’ offers – experience suggests that nothing in life comes free!