DIY legal documents for conveyancing transactions — why some people think you don’t need lawyers in a sale and purchase of property

I explained the background to this conversation about “DIY legal documents” and the Collective of Applied Law and Legal Realism (CALR) in an earlier post — “DIY legal documents for conveyancing transactions — can we really do it without lawyers?”

As mentioned in that post, I was invited to speak at the launch event and was assigned the session title — What’s wrong with conveyancing and corporate law work?

I’ll be writing about what I shared in relation to conveyancing in four parts (beginning with this post):

  1. Why some people think you don’t need lawyers in a sale and purchase of property.
  2. Understanding the basics.
  3. Sale and purchase and loan agreements.
  4. Time for a reality check.

A bit of a blur

Most people would personally go through at least one conveyancing transaction in their lifetime. That would probably be the only time (well, hopefully the only time) where they would come into contact personally with a lawyer or any legal services.

If you ask first-time property purchasers who have received the keys to their property to describe the conveyancing process, it is highly likely that they wouldn’t be able to do so.

Many would describe it as a bit of a blur; something along the lines of the following:

“I don’t know really what happened. I wanted to buy this condo. I contacted the agent, who showed me the unit.

After some haggling over the price, a price was agreed, and I passed the agent a cheque for the downpayment.

The agent asked me to sign a ‘standard’ offer letter, and asked me if I knew a lawyer. I said no I’ve never been in trouble haha, so he says no problem I can use their ‘usual’ lawyer and put me in touch. He says I don’t need to meet the lawyer until it’s time to sign, as the agreements are ‘standard’.

I turned up at some law firm, met this lady who says she’s a ‘manager’ or ‘executive’. I asked her where the lawyer was, and she said no I don’t need to meet a lawyer. She made me sign a stack of documents, and asked me to initial every page.

I didn’t understand one of the clauses, so I asked her what it meant. She answered curtly and gave me a look which said ‘no more questions please’ and then reminded me how many pages I had to sign, so I’d better hurry up unless I wanted to be sitting there all day.

Having managed to stave off serious hand-cramp from all that mindless penmanship, I cut another cheque for more money. The lady-who-I-thought-would-be-a-lawyer-but-isn’t then said thanks bye-bye but wait, are you getting a loan? I said yes of course do I look like I can pay cash — but I’d asked one or two banks and they haven’t gotten back to me. She said nevermind, use our usual bankers, and passed me the contact details of a couple of housing loan agents.

The housing loan process was another mini-cyclone within the mega-cyclone, and after more money and hand-cramp, I was told ‘all done’ and leave it to the lawyers to sort it out.

All I know is, somehow, I ended up with the keys to my condo a few months later.”

Well, that was a bit of whirlwind, but at least there was a happy ending — he got the keys to his condo. That’s not always the case.

There are often all sorts of complications which could delay the process.

Many homebuyers have experienced the frustration of not understanding what’s going on.

They are just told that for some “legal reason” they will only be getting the keys to their property months later than expected — or that the transaction is stuck for some reason which they cannot begin to comprehend.

The ideal conveyancing transaction

Conceptually, a conveyancing transaction is very straightforward.

One party has money (or access to some money and a big bank loan) and wants to buy a house.

Another party owns the house and wants to sell it for the right price.

The parties then effectively agree a swap — you give me the money, I’ll give you the keys. Simple.

“Let’s swap! Who needs lawyers anyway?”

It is this oversimplification that leads people to think that they don’t need lawyers in a conveyancing transaction.

Or that maybe lawyers are only needed for some administrative functions involving the filing of forms, or to facilitate the land office and stamp office processes — and that therefore the legal fees involved are too expensive.

In the coming posts I’ll explain some of the basics of a conveyancing transaction, and you’ll see why this ideal is very far from the reality.

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