Settlement is the business end of the home buying journey, when you take legal possession of your new home.

 

Buying a house isn’t just a matter of handing over the cash, picking up the keys and taking a photo in front of the “SOLD” sign. There are some important processes involved to legally transfer ownership of property and activate financial arrangements. Settlement is when all the official business happens.

The complexity of settlement process depends on individual circumstances, but as it’s a high-stakes situation most mere mortals use a conveyancer or solicitor as a settlement agent to ensure everything goes smoothly.

What happens during property settlement?

Items on the settlement agenda include:

– Conducting a pre-settlement or final inspection

– Checking and signing property title transfer documents

– Registering the transfer of ownership with the relevant government agency

– Activating the mortgage finance from your lender and registering the mortgage against the property title 

– Making final payment to the seller

How long does settlement take?

The settlement period can vary as it is negotiated between the seller and the buyer before signing the contract of sale. Average settlement timeframes in Australia are 30, 60 or 90 days, but can potentially be longer or shorter.

The settlement period starts on the day that you sign the contract of sale and ends on settlement day – which is the date you officially own the property!

You have a say in the length of the settlement period. Factors from both parties influence how many days settlement needs to be, which is agreed on by you and the seller and written out in the contract of sale.

If you need time to get your funds together, need to wait out a rental contract or are selling another property to buy this one you might request a longer settlement. If you have the funds and want to move ASAP you might negotiate as short a period as possible. However, keep in mind the seller may request a longer timeframe.

What is a settlement adjustment statement?

Just before the arrangement settlement time your conveyancer will give you a settlement adjustment statement which should include pre-settlement adjustments such as stamp duty, stamp duty concessions and the balance of bills and fees.

The seller has to pay all the bills at the property right up until you take possession on settlement day, including council fees and water rates.

Sometimes certain bills are paid in advance, which means the seller may be paying for services that extend beyond settlement day. When this happens, the seller is compensated through an ‘adjustment’ to the purchase price on settlement day.

You should check the pre-settlement adjustment statement carefully before advising your conveyancer to proceed with final settlement.

Final inspection – does it matter?

If you’ve already seen the property four times you might wonder why you need to see it again, but the final inspection is important. The property should be in the same condition as the date you signed the contract of sale.

The contract specifies which fittings, fixtures and appliances etc (commonly referred to as ‘chattels’) should be included so use the final inspection to check these are all present and correct.

Here’s what to keep in mind when you do the final inspection:

– Ensure there has been no damage to the property since the contract was signed. You may see more detail now that the previous tenant has moved out, so check for things like marks on walls, scratches on floorboards, discolouration on carpet and cracks in windows.

– Check that all lights, appliances and power sockets are working (Hint: take a handheld appliance such as a hairdryer to easily check all the power points!)

– Check that all furniture, rubbish and building material has been removed

– Make sure the garden is in order and no plants have been removed (unless agreed with the seller)

If anything is out of order or not in line with the contract speak to your settlement agent.

The pre-settlement inspection usually happens during the week before settlement day.

What is settlement day?

Settlement day is when the legal and financial representatives of the buyer and seller actually transfer the title deed and funds to finalise the sale of the property.

What happens on settlement day?

Your settlement agent will meet with the vendor’s settlement agent (conveyancer or solicitor) to hand over the cheque in exchange for the seller’s signed transfer documents.

Ideally, this process is seamless – and it will be if all your paperwork is in order.

Your conveyancer or solicitor will register the transfer of ownership with the title office in your state or territory.

Like a good scout, be prepared

Plan, prepare, and give yourself plenty of time to get everything organised.

You will need to ensure all necessary funds are available on settlement day, which may require making arrangements with your bank to arrange a large transfer or bank cheque.

Very importantly – sure you have house and contents insurance cover and that the policy begins on or before settlement day, to ensure your new property is protected.

You may like to seek further advice from your conveyancer or solicitor on how to prepare for your settlement day.

Dotting the i’s and taking the selfies

Your conveyancer will send you the settlement details, including a statement of adjustment. You should also receive confirmation from your lender, including details on your loan amount and repayment schedule.

Once it’s all done, you’re ready to pick up the keys, take the obligatory photo in front of the ‘For Sale’ sign and walk through the front door of your new home.