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The Property Purchaser’s Guidebook

Property Buying Fundamentals


Owning a slice of the sunburnt country is a dream woven into the fabric of the Australian identity. From sizzling BBQs in the backyard, to the sense of accomplishment that comes with building a home and community for your family’s future, the Great Australian Dream is painted in shades of brick and mortar.

Millions of savvy Aussies chase the promise of property ownership, the opportunity to grow their wealth and secure financial security and freedom for their future. Yet, for many Australians, navigating the legal landscape of property feels like an impossible task. Why? Because it is, largely, an impossible task. Even the legally trained struggle to grasp the complexities of property legislation and practice – and to make it even worse, property law and practice is different in every state of the country. What should be a rewarding and fulfilling journey, is often a stressful and nerve-wracking experience where buyers are plagued with anxieties about the legal process. There are also a lot of bullsh*t resources out there that don’t really help either, making it hard to know what information to trust.

Our motivation behind this Guidebook, is to equip you with the knowledge and tools you’ll actually need to have a comprehensive, yet practical, understanding of the property buying process, regardless of where you are buying in the country. Our hope is to empower you, on your own journey, so you can make informed and strategic decisions about your real estate investments, to grow your wealth and secure your future.

In this chapter, we cover the basics of the property buying journey, the legal concepts you should understand, and the function of the contract of sale.

Here are the topics that we’ll cover in the Property Buying Fundamentals chapter

  • What is Conveyancing?

    Explains what conveyancing is, who is qualified to do conveyancing, and an overview of the electronic conveyancing landscape.

  • Glossary of common property terms

    Explains the meaning of some common property terms that you will come across on your journey, so you can better understand the process and the decisions you are making.

  • The buying process, from start to finish

    A simplified overview of the entire process of buying a property – from surfing to picking up the keys ready to move in.

  • Land ownership in Australia
    • How the land-titling system works: Understand the land titling system in Australia and how this shapes the conveyancing process.
    • Types of property ownership – Freehold vs Leasehold: Understand the different types of property ownership interests.
    • Property titles and schemes: Understand the different types of property titles and property schemes.
    • Easements, mortgages and other encumbrances: Understand the different types of dealings or interests that can be registered on the title of land, and what it means for you as the owner.
  • The Contract of Sale

    Understand the purpose of a contract of sale, and the rights and obligations it imposes on you as a purchaser.

What is Conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring ownership of land from one owner to another.

The terms ‘land’, ‘property’ and ‘real property’ are generally used interchangeably to describe a parcel of real estate (whether a vacant block of land, block of land with a single house, a townhouse, apartment, retail or office space, acreage, farmland etc.).

‘Real property’ is the legal term to describe real estate. It means any immovable property involving land (including the legal rights attached to that land) as well as everything that is permanently affixed to the land (such as the house, gardens, windows, carpet, toilet, kitchen etc.). This is different to ‘personal property’, which is all other property that is not real property (such as the furniture and appliances in a house that the owner takes with them when they leave).

Rules and laws governing real property

Real property in Australia is governed at a state level, meaning each state and territory set their own laws for real property, and real property transactions, in that state or territory. This has resulted in there being huge differences between the rules and practice that apply to property in each state and territory, creating a barrier for Australians to buy and sell property across the country.

Since 2011, Australia has been working towards aligning property law and practice across the country through electronic conveyancing. In 2011, all state and territory governments entered into an agreement called the ‘Intergovernmental Agreement for an Electronic Conveyancing National Law’ (the IGA). The purpose of the IGA was to formalise a plan to implement a single national e-conveyancing system for the settling of real property transactions in all Australian states and territories. This e-conveyancing system would provide a convenient and secure way for lawyers, conveyancers and financiers to settle transactions involving land, electronically.

The IGA established ARNECC (the ‘Australian Registrars National Electronic Conveyancing Council’), who is the body responsible for facilitating the implementation of the e-conveyancing system itself, and for the ongoing management of the regulatory aspects of it.

Rules and laws governing e-conveyancing

The Australian e-conveyancing system is governed by the Electronic Conveyancing National Law (ECNL), which has been adopted by every state and territory through legislation in each state and territory (visit ARNECC for info on the specific legislation). The ECNL sets out a detailed framework of how the e-conveyancing system is to work, and what rules and requirements must be followed by everyone interacting with it (e.g. the land titles offices, revenue offices, lawyers, conveyancers, banks etc.). The ECNL also provides that further rules can be made relating to the use of the e-conveyancing system – these are known as the “Participation Rules”, and they heavily govern the day-to-day use of the system.

The Participation Rules adopted by each state and territory are word-for-word the same as ARNECC’s Model Participation Rules for Electronic Conveyancing (WA has amended “Schedule 1 – Additional Participation Rules” but this has no effect on the operation of the rules as they apply in WA).

As of January 2024, all states and territories had implemented the e-conveyancing system, other than Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Under the IGA, Tas and NT have an obligation to use their “best endeavours” to implement the e-conveyancing system “as soon as practicable” (clause 5.2.1 if the IGA).

It is through this national e-conveyancing system, that the states and territories have made significant advancements towards aligning law and practice across the country. We are starting to see, however, that the national implementation of the e-conveyancing system is not going to be enough to align law and practice alone. More collaboration between jurisdictions will be necessary to address differences in property practice (referred to in a legal context as the “Prescribed Requirements”) that have deep-seated roots in each state/territory’s property system.

Who is qualified to provide conveyancing services?

You need to be suitably qualified to provide conveyancing services in Australia.

Below are the two types of professionals who are qualified to offer conveyancing services:

A lawyer who is currently permitted to practice law (i.e. because they hold a current practising certificate) is automatically qualified to provide conveyancing services. They will have completed at least 1 university degree in law, as well as post-university study specialising in legal practice. They will also be formally recognised as a Lawyer of the Supreme Court of the state or territory in which they practice, are required to maintain appropriate professional indemnity insurance, and everything they do is governed by strict solicitor rules.

You can check the law society register of the state or territory you are in to confirm if a person is a qualified lawyer:

State/ Territory Register
NSW The Law Society of New South Wales – Register of Solicitors
VIC Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner – Register of Lawyers
QLD Queensland Law Society – Register of Solicitors
SA The Law Society of South Australia – Register of Practising Certificates
WA Legal Practice Board of Western Australia – Find a Practitioner
TAS The Law Society of Tasmania – Find a Lawyer
ACT ACT Law Society – Find a Lawyer
NT Law Society NT – Current NT Legal Practitioners

What’s the difference between using a lawyer or conveyancer?

The main difference is that a lawyer has the ability to consider other legal issues that may arise in your transaction, whereas a conveyancer is restricted in the work they are allowed to do. Both are suitable to complete a conveyance, but engaging a lawyer can give you peace of mind that any legal risks or issues that arise during the transaction can be quickly considered and addressed, without needing to obtain further legal advice (reducing overall cost and delay).

With that said, competence in conveyancing is like any other profession – there will be good lawyers and not-so-good lawyers, good conveyancers and not-so-good conveyancers. The most important thing is to find a conveyancing team who are appropriately qualified, capable of looking after you and your interests and are experienced in the type of property transaction you are engaging them for.

Electronic conveyancing (e-conveyancing)

As discussed above, e-conveyancing has been in the works since 2011, with all Australian state and territory governments entering the IGA and agreeing to implement the national e-conveyancing system in their state/territory as soon as practicable. However, without any hard deadlines for the governments to implement, uptake by the industry was stagged, slow and quite frankly, painful.

The legal industry is notoriously resistant to change, but the slow uptake of e-conveyancing in Australia was expedited by the COVID pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, industry practice heavily favoured paper and manual based settlements, and the industry was very “stuck in its ways”. However, when we were faced with COVID lockdowns for months on end, it forced the industry to embrace e-conveyancing (or risk a prolonged pause in Australia’s ability to complete property transactions).

To date, all states and territories, besides Tasmania and the Northern Territory, have implemented the national e-conveyancing system, and it is mandatory to use in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and (as of February 2024) Queensland, for all mainstream transactions (meaning paper transactions in those states won’t be permitted). The ACT has not yet mandated the use of e-conveyancing, but it is now the primary method of property settlements in the ACT, nonetheless.

So, in short, a standard conveyancing transaction can be done electronically in NSW, Victoria, QLD, SA, WA and ACT. Tasmania aren’t too far behind (with The Law Society of Tasmania saying it should be introduced “in the second half of 2024”), but we are yet to see any substantial movement in the Northern Territory.

What is e-conveyancing?

E-conveyancing, put simply, is a conveyancing transaction where the settlement aspect of it is completed electronically.

This is a significant contrast to the former paper-based system, which was heavily reliant upon humans and manual processes. The ability to complete this type of transaction electronically means, not only a huge reduction in the time and manual labour needed to devote to the work, but a significant increase in the security surrounding those transactions, and the streamlining of the different parties involved.

How does e-conveyancing work?

Settlements take place via an internet-accessible platform, called Electronic Lodgement Network Operators (or ELNOs). Currently, there are two ELNOs that can be used – PEXA and Sympli. PEXA is the most popular ELNO at the moment (because it was the OG platform built by/in conjunction with the state governments and ARNECC). It doesn’t matter which platform is used, they are each interoperable (meaning they can work together, much like using Android and iPhones – it doesn’t matter if you have an iPhone, you can still call, text, access apps and websites in the same way as an Android user).

Settling through an ELNO means we don’t need to physically attend a settlement. It links directly with the land titles offices, state revenue offices, as well as the ATO, and has complete functionality to complete all aspects of the financial side of the transaction. This means that everything that needs to occur as part of a conveyancing settlement, can be done through the ELNO – revolutionary!!

I will say it again and again, but this dramatically reduces the time we need to spend per matter (reducing the costs of our services for clients), and provides a considerably higher level of security for property owners.

Features of an ELNO

Each ELNO:

  • uses a secure and encrypted platform;
  • links directly to the land titles office (allowing immediate access to property titling details, as well as the pre-acceptance of land title documents before they are lodged – reducing the risk of land title requisitions);
  • links directly to the office of state revenue (so transfer/stamp duty can be paid at settlement);
  • links directly with the banks (so your bank can easily provide your loan funds at settlement);
  • links directly with the ATO (so any GST or foreign resident capital gains withholding payments can be made at settlement); and
  • works in connection with the Reserve Bank of Australia (meaning all funds sent through PEXA are usually received same day – rev-oh-lu-shionary my friends).

Who can access an ELNO?

Those who can access and use an ELNO are called “Subscribers”. You need to go through an application process to become a Subscriber, and must meet the strict Eligibility Criteria (set out in section 4 of the Participation Rules) that requires, among other things, that you are of good character and reputation. This is to maintain that high standard of security.

Certain professions (such as lawyers, licensed conveyancers and banks) are deemed to be compliant with the Eligibility Criteria, so most Subscribers will be from these professions – people in these professions are often regarded as people of good character and standing in the community, and are in the business of following rules. Additionally, if anyone from these professions commits an act of fraud or material professional negligence, it will likely be career-ending for them (which is an added incentive to not be a sh*t person when using an ELNO).

Why is this restriction necessary?

The ultimate reason it must be this way is to free the bottleneck at the land titles office (LTO) whilst also maintaining the level of security and integrity required to protect property owners.

The nature of our land titling system (which we explore later in ‘Land ownership in Australia’) is such that mistakes and fraud in the land titling system can have significant consequences for property owners (and anyone else with an interest in land).

For this reason, the former system involved multiple levels of scrutiny of each (paper) land title document lodged with the LTO. This was 100% necessary because all land title documents lodged with the LTO were manually prepared by humans (who didn’t need to have certain qualifications), and it was much easier for mistakes to be made, or fraud to be committed. If the LTO was no longer going to be scrutinising every document in this way, there needed to be other appropriate checks and balances in place to maintain the integrity of the titling system. For example, when lodging a document through an ELNO, a Subscriber needs to make certain “certifications” to the LTO confirming that all laws and requirements have been complied with – if the person making those certifications (1) isn’t qualified to assess whether the laws and requirements have, in fact, been complied with, or (2) is not in a profession where there would be serious consequences for them if they make a false certification, then the giving of the certifications would not be sufficient to maintain the integrity of the land titling system, and the e-conveyancing framework wouldn’t work.

Conveyancing Summary

  • Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring property ownership from one person to another.
  • Conveyancing services can only be offered by lawyers or licensed conveyancers.
  • The COVID pandemic expedited Australia’s move to electronic conveyancing, but we love it because it makes for a more efficient, secure and streamlined transaction. Settlements of conveyancing transactions now take place electronically via an Electronic Lodgement Network Operator (ELNO), such as PEXA or Sympli.
  • An ELNO connects all parties involved in a traditional conveyancing settlement (such as the land titles office, office of state revenue, ATO and banks) and means that we no longer need to attend a physical settlement.
  • Not everyone can access an ELNO – access is mostly limited to lawyers, conveyancers and financial institutions (i.e. banks). This restriction is necessary from a practical perspective to maintain a high standard of security, while taking the burden off, and reducing the bottleneck caused at, the land titles office.

Glossary of common property terms

Knowledge is power – this glossary explains some common terms you may come across on your property journey.


There are various expenses that come with owning a property, such as council rates, water rates, body corporate fees, rent, utility bills and (in some cases) land tax. When you are buying a property, the seller is responsible for these costs up until the property is transferred to you, following which you are then responsible.

Adjustments refers to the adjusting of the purchase price to split these costs – i.e. they are apportioned so the seller pays for them up until the date of settlement, and then the purchaser pays for them thereafter.


ARNECC stands for the Australian Registrars National Electronic Conveyancing Council, and is the body responsible for facilitating the implementation of the e-conveyancing system in Australia, as well as the ongoing management of the regulatory aspects of it.


There are a few different ways you can sell a property – the most common being by Auction or by Private Treaty.

If a property is sold by auction, it means that it is sold at a public event where potential buyers gather to bid to buy the property. The property is sold to the highest bidder at the auction if the price has reached or exceeded the Reserve Price. If the highest bid is less than the reserve price, the seller does not need to sell the property. If this happens, it is called being “passed-in”.

The buying process, from start to finish

Land ownership in Australia

This section explains how land ownership works in Australia. It will give you a basic understanding how legal title to property is held, as well as the different types of property titles that can be held, so you know your rights and responsibilities of (as well as the benefits and liabilities associated with) owning certain types of land in Australia. This will help you make smarter investment decisions about the types of property you want to invest in to get you closer to your investment goals.

It will cover:

  1. How the land titling system works in Australia;
  2. The two types of property ownership types – freehold and leasehold;
  3. The different types of property titles that can be owned, and how titling schemes work;
  4. Company title and how it differs from strata title; and
  5. Encumbrances – easements, mortgages, covenants – and what they mean for a property owner.

The Contract of Sale

The “contract of sale” is the official, legally binding agreement between the seller and purchaser of a property. It contains the important details about the sale and purchase, including who the parties are, what property is being sold, the purchase price, the date of settlement etc. It locks the seller into selling the property, and locks the buyer into buying the property.

The contract of sale will be different for every sale, as it will include information specific to the property being sold. The form of contract, and disclosure requirements, are also very different between states and territories, so advice on the specific terms of the contract will need to come from the lawyer or conveyancer you are engaging to act for you.

For a residential property sale, the contract of sale will generally be in a standard form contract that has been accepted by the industry in the state or territory where the property is located. The form and terms of the standard contract differs between each state and territory, however largely consist of the following structure:

Front pages

This part sets out the main details of the transaction, including the property details, seller, buyer, purchase price, real estate agent, inclusions and exclusions, body corporate details (if applicable), if GST is payable, if land tax is adjustable etc.

General / standard terms and conditions

Each state and territory have a standard set of terms and conditions that are used in each property sale. These are produced and maintained by private industry bodies in each state/territory.

In each case, the standard contract terms are drafted to be fair and balanced between the purchaser and seller. However, these terms can be (and are often) amended by the parties to the transaction by including special conditions that specifically amend the standard terms.

The general terms and conditions deal with all the usual parts of a property transaction such as payment of the deposit; the procedure to be followed for an electronic transaction (i.e. party responsibilities); the rights of the purchaser if it has a claim against the vendor under the contract; the rights of the vendor if the purchaser defaults under the contract; how adjustments are to be calculated and made; how GST is to be treated; what each party needs to do on settlement; when and how possession of the property is to be handed over (or, if the property is sold subject to an existing tenancy, the process for transferring any bond/updating records as to ownership, over to the purchaser); specific provisions for strata or community title properties; how FRCGW is to be treated; and specific provisions for residential off-the-plan purchases.

Special conditions

These are a set of additional terms and conditions that deal with issues specific to the transaction on a case-by-case basis. The purpose of special conditions can be to amend the general/standard conditions, make relevant disclosures on behalf of the vendor, or impose additional rights or obligations on the parties to the contract (such as giving the purchaser a termination right if they are unable to obtain adequate finance).

Industry practice for drafting special conditions is very different between states/territories. For example, in NSW, it is standard to include an excess of special conditions (that are often unnecessary) to re-balance the contract terms in favour of the vendor.  Whereas in QLD, special conditions are only included when absolutely necessary for the specific transaction (e.g. where the parties have agreed that the contract will be subject to the purchaser obtaining finance, or a satisfactory pest and building inspection).

Your lawyer will review the special conditions and let you know if there are any unusual conditions that should be considered and/or amended. It is best practice to keep special conditions brief and on an as-required basis only.


Each state and territory have different requirements for what information must be disclosed by a vendor about a property, and how. There are often different disclosure requirements for different property types – commercial, residential, off-the-plan and options to purchase land – and disclosure requirements are wildly different depending on the state/territory of the property (with some states/territories having no disclosure requirements at all).

In each case, disclosures are usually made by either attaching certain documents to the contract, or providing the purchaser a disclosure statement in a form approved by that state/territory’s law. Disclosures usually provide information such as ownership, boundaries, encumbrances that will be transferred with the property, planning and zoning information, pool safety, and body corporate information (for strata or community titled property).

Your lawyer will review the disclosure material, and make sure all disclosures that are required to be made, have been made. If a vendor fails to make the required disclosures, the purchaser generally has the right to terminate the contract and/or sue for damages

Warranties implied by legislation

Legislation in most state and territory implies certain terms into a contract in the form of vendor warranties. This means that the vendor makes certain promises to the purchaser about the condition of the property and the title. It protects a purchaser from buying a property with material defects that were deliberately concealed by the vendor in the sale process. The vendor has an obligation to disclose in the contract if any of these warranties cannot be given. If no such disclosure is made, the purchaser is entitled to rely on the warranties.

Given that the position in each state/territory is different, your lawyer will advise you on the warranties you are entitled to rely on depending on the location of the property you are buying, and together with any disclosures made by the vendor in the contract