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Frank Walker
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Stacks/The Law Firm - News Room



These days, electronic transactions are pretty much the norm. From ordering groceries to paying bills or moving money between bank accounts; most of us conduct business online. It can make life easier; particularly when you’re sick, incapacitated or time poor.

In contrast, our system for buying and selling property is fairly archaic.

Conveyancing in Australia generally uses the Torrens Title system of land ownership. You get a ‘Certificate of Title’ when you own a property, meaning you are officially registered on the title. Titles are recorded in a publicly accessible government register.

Whenever changes are made to a title, such as when a property is sold, or an owner takes out a mortgage or leases their property, there’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of paperwork. Documents must be signed, lodged and processed by the Land and Property Information Office (LPI) before any change is recorded to the title. This can involve conveyancers/lawyers, financial institutions, the Office of State and Revenue, LPI, and others. An estimated 1.1 million title changes happen every year. Few of them electronic. That’s a lot of paper.

Current property settlements (the last step when you buy or sell property) hinge on at least four different people physically meeting at an appointed time and place (two lawyers/conveyancers and two financial representatives). Title and transfer documents are checked and handed over, along with cheques.

But what if one of them gets stuck in traffic? Or human error causes a cheque to be printed in the wrong amount? Then you have what’s known as a ‘crashed’ settlement. A no-show or a document error can mean settlement doesn’t happen. And getting all of the right people back together again with the right documents can be a frustrating process, particularly if removalists are waiting to move your furniture.

Enter e-conveyancing. National E-Conveyancing Development Limited (NECDL) is working to create an Australia-wide system that allows conveyancing transactions to be done electronically. Victoria already has one, but only for intrastate property transactions.

It would mean that title documents could be lodged via computer, all parties involved could view and complete documents electronically, financial transactions could be settled online and LPI could record title changes electronically.

So no more need for face-to-face settlement meetings. And a more efficient way to move documents along the line. The idea isn’t to automate all transactions; just to give an electronic alternative to paper.

It’s a way off yet. Everyone accessing the system must be able to prove who they are and that documents have been legally signed. That means digital signatures, a customised identity verification tool, and secure, hack-proof software. There are legal and technical hurdles aplenty.

But it makes sense that conveyancing should move with the times.


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