Getting quotes for your conveyancing? These are the big questions you need to be asking…
Given conveyancing is now a common area of practice for most legal practices, buyers and sellers are shopping around to compare prices for conveyancing more than ever before. However, one big mistake that we see buyers and sellers make is automatically opting for the cheapest price. Unfortunately, the cheapest option is not always the best option. We look at the main questions that you should be asking when you are getting quotes to avoid the extra fees creeping up on you and to ensure that your interests are being adequately protected.
- What are your professional fees?
Professional fees are the fees that are charged by the legal practice for the conveyancing service that they are providing you. When enquiring about the professional fees, it is also important to ask whether the amount quoted is GST inclusive or exclusive, as some firms will quote a fixed fee and then add GST onto that later, when you may have been of the understanding that the fee was actually GST inclusive. Most clients have a tendency to go with the firm that has the lowest professional fee, however as we will outline below, these firm’s do not always end up the cheapest when it comes time to pay their invoice at settlement.
- What outlays are you going to be charged?
Outlays, or disbursements, are costs that are incurred as part of the conveyancing process that are not part of the professional fee for the services provided. They can include photocopying, postage and petties, phone calls, bank cheque fees, agent’s fees and the like. Some firms will even include the cost of searches as their outlays – we will look at this further below.
As it is not economical for all law firms to send their clerks to attend settlement, most firms will engage a settlement agent to attend settlement on their behalf – this may also be added on to your conveyancing fees and can range from $30.00 – $80.00 depending on the amount of work required of the agent.
Some firms will include most or all of the outlays above in their fee, whilst others will add it on top of their fee by giving you a quote of “$X plus GST and outlays”. In these situations, the outlays can add up but the actual price to expect is not fully disclosed under the guise of the use of the word “outlays”. These outlays can add up to a few hundred dollars depending on what firms do or don’t include under their definition of “outlays”.
- What searches will you do?
When acting for a seller, the searches that a conveyance or solicitor are required to do are minimal. Generally only a title search will be done and perhaps a search of the registered plan and contaminated land register. If you are selling and have received a quote, you should query whether or not the cost of the title search has been included in the quote.
When acting for a buyer, your conveyancer or solicitor will undertake more extensive searches for you in order to ensure that your rights are adequately protected and that there are no outstanding issues with the property. Again, many “cut price” firms will undertake the most basic searches – title search, registered plan and rates. Others may go a step further and search the Contaminated Land Register, check for council approvals and notices, land tax, Transport and Main Roads searches etc. Others may be completely through and undertake almost every search available.
The cost of searches will vary depending on which ones you are wanting and what you are seeking to find out about the property or the seller. The most basic searches may only incur say $100.00 where undertaking more extensive searches can cost up to $1,000.00. It is not necessary to do every single search (unless your budget allows), but doing only the bare basic searches can also be dangerous. It is therefore important to discuss aspects of your property with your conveyancer so that the most appropriate searches can be obtained. For example, has the property been renovated, where is it located, is it in a flood zone etc.
- Do you charge for pre-contract advice or Special Conditions?
Most conveyancers will look over your Contract before you sign to ensure that your rights are protected and that any Special Conditions are drafted correctly. However, other firms may charge you to do this or to draft conditions for you. Obviously, if your conveyancer is going to charge you for this, you will need to enquire as to whether this fee is in addition to their professional fee, or whether it has been factored into the quote you have been given.
- Do you charge for extensions on conditions?
As we have outlined above, going for the firm with the lowest professional fee is not always going to be the cheapest. These firms often recover their costs by charging their clients for each extension. This means that every time the client, or the other party in the transaction, requests an extension to a Finance, Building and Pest, Due Diligence condition etc, an additional fee (usually an extra $50 plus GST) will be incurred by the client. This can really add up, without any fault by you, if the other party to your transaction is disorganised or is struggling to fulfil the conditions in the Contract on time.
Whilst incurring charges will be less of a concern where you have signed an unconditional Contract, the extent of your expense will mostly be unknown at the time of signing the Contract – your conveyance could go through smoothly with every condition being met on time, or you or the other party could require multiple extensions, thereby adding a few extra hundred dollars onto your costs. If you are looking at a firm with the lowest professional fee, it is imperative that you confirm any charges for extensions and approach the firms that charge for extensions with caution.
- Do you charge if the Contract falls over?
Some firms may charge you for their work done on your Contract to date if the Contract is terminated for some reason. Whilst this is a completely justifiable charge, given a lot of time and effort can go into trying to keep a Contract on foot, it is an important consideration when getting quotes. A firm that charges a higher fee but does not charge for work done on a terminated Contract is likely to work out cheaper than a firm that charges a lower professional fee but then charges a few hundred dollars for the work done on a terminated Contract.
If a firm does charge for the Contract falling over, it will also be difficult to determine how much this will be when you first sign a Contract. For example, the price you might pay if the Contract falls over on its first due condition will be less than taking a Contract nearly to Settlement and then having it fall over.
- How many files does the conveyancer deal with at one time?
This question may be viewed two ways:
- If the conveyancer handles a large number of files at once, it indicates capability and experience, however;
- If the conveyancer handles a large number of files it can also serve as a red flag that you may not receive great service because the conveyancer simply can not dedicate as much time to your particular file as you would like because they are juggling so many others at once. This can be important when satisfying conditions; for example, a conveyancer with minimal files will be better equipped to peruse lengthy building and pest reports in detail and then engage in negotiations on this condition than a conveyancer who is handling a large number of files.
If obtaining the cheapest price is your priority, you are not concerned about the level of service you receive and are happy with a “sausage factory” approach to your conveyancing, then perhaps you can justify a cut-price firm. You just need to bear in mind that the reason why their prices are likely to be cheap is because they rely on a certain volume of files to come in to cover their expenses. This can mean that the conveyancers can be overloaded.
Conversely, if you are expecting good service, you are unlikely to receive it from a cheaper firm and perhaps it is worth spending a little extra to be adequately serviced.
***Disclaimer: our comments are not suggesting that firms offering cheaper conveyancing necessarily provide poor service, we are merely stating this as a consideration when deciding on a conveyancer.
- Is there a solicitor on hand to provide advice if things go pear-shaped and how much will that cost?
Every client hopes that they will proceed to settlement smoothly and without any issues. However, it is always comforting to know that in the event your conveyancing does hit a hurdle, that there will be a solicitor on hand to assist your conveyancer with your transaction.
Whilst conveyancers can have years of experience, they are not qualified to give legal advice and as such, having a solicitor present to immediately assist you and provide advice on your rights will be beneficial.
Assuming that the firm does offer a solicitor to provide advice to overcome any hurdles, it is also important that you enquire as to whether you will be charged for this qualified advice and if so, how much it will be.
- Are there any kickbacks going to third parties?
Have you been referred to a particular conveyancer by your real estate or mortgage broker etc? If so, it could be worthwhile you enquiring as to whether or not that third party seeks to gain anything from the transaction or receive a kickback of some description.
Real Estate Agents are required to disclose any kickback they are receiving from a third party (such as a solicitor) in their Property Occupations Act forms. However if you have been referred by another party then it might be worthwhile asking the question, as you could be paying a heightened price for your conveyancing because your conveyance has factored the kickback that a third party may be receiving from your conveyance into your price.
When selecting your conveyancer, you need to decide whether you are wanting good service or whether you are just happy to go with the cheapest option. If your just concerned with the cheapest option, then make sure it is actually the cheapest option after taking into consideration each of the factors we have outlined and not just go ahead with the firm with the lowest professional fee.
Another main consideration – do you really want to leave the sale or purchase of your biggest asset (a property) to a cut-price firm? Is cheap always the best? Given the amount of money at stake it is imperative that you ensure that your rights are adequately protected and that your conveyancer has the time, skill and resources to be able to address any issues and provide you with great service.
If you have any questions in relation to the breakdown of conveyancing fees or would like a quote for your conveyancing, please contact us today.