What is the difference between a settlement agent and conveyancing lawyer?

Confused about whether to appoint a settlement agent or conveyancing lawyer? Although both can provide conveyancing services, there are differences between the two which are important to understand and should be considered before you make your decision.

What is a settlement agent?

A settlement agent is a property professional trained and qualified to provide conveyancing services in Western Australian (WA).

All settlement agents in WA are licensed by the Department of Commerce. They are required to hold a current Settlement Agent Licence and a triennial certificate under the Settlement Agents Act 1981.

Settlement agents do not conduct any other kind of work, their primary and sole service is to assist buyers and sellers with the transfer of property. They can only perform work as outlined in the Settlement Agents Act.

What is a conveyancing lawyer?

A lawyer is a legal professional trained and qualified to provide conveyancing services and legal services.

In WA, all lawyers must have a current practicing certificate as governed by the Legal Profession Conduct Rules 2010 and the Legal Profession Act 2008. It is also a requirement in WA that all lawyers are covered by professional indemnity insurance.

In addition to conducting conveyancing work, lawyers are also qualified to provide legal advice and can take legal action on your behalf in relation to your property. Experienced conveyancing lawyers have extensive knowledge of property law and can assist on complex legal matters as well as broader legal issues that may affect your settlement.

What is a conveyancer?

The term “conveyancer” is used to describe professionals who are qualified and or licensed to carry out conveyancing work. In WA, there is no legislation that covers the use of the word conveyancer, so both a settlement agent and conveyancing lawyer could be referred to as a “conveyancer”.

Should you choose a settlement agent or lawyer?

It may not be easy deciding whether a settlement agent or a lawyer is right for you – both can do the job. Asking the following questions may help with your decision:

  • Qualifications
    Do they have the knowledge and current licences required to provide conveyancing services?
  • Experience
    How many property settlements have they handled and have they worked on your type of property before?
  • Legislation
    Property laws constantly change – do they understand the current legislation and are they familiar with the latest updates?
  • Specialist advice
    Can they help you with advice about the property regarding your specific needs such as:
    • Does probate need to be granted prior to entering into the contract?
    • Do you need to change your will?
    • Will the sale have family law implications?
  • Complexity
    How complex is your property transaction? Off the plan purchases and subdivisions are two examples of transactions that are at risk of becoming complicated. However, even a seemingly simple property transaction can quickly become complicated due to unforseen issues such as:
    • a lost title;
    • delays in financing;
    • structures on the property not approved by council; or
    • a change in the property condition since the contract of sale was signed;

The advantage of having the support of an experienced lawyer with comprehensive legal knowledge is that they will be on hand to quickly solve any legal issues that arise during the settlement process. This can save you both time and money in the long run and ensure a successful settlement.