Dictionary of conveyancing terms



Most people have some understanding of the terms "agent" or "agency", but few know the correct meaning of the term. Agency involves representation, and the taking of responsibility on behalf of the client (known as the principal). In real estate the use of the term "agent", to describe a commission estate agent, can be quite misleading.

Agent Taint

"Agent Taint" occurs where a Vendor cannot accept an offer from a Purchaser without having to pay a commission to the estate agent, even though the Exclusive Sale Authority has been ended. Every person who has in any way become aware that a property is for sale, during the period of the Exclusive Sale Authority, is tainted, because of the likelihood that the estate agent will claim commission if the property is sold to them.


"Appraisal" is just another term for valuation but is used instead of the word "valuation" because estate agents are not permitted to provide true valuations on real estate. Only an accredited valuer can provide a genuine property "valuation".


An auction is a form of sale where potential purchasers make competing offers or "bids", with the person offering the highest bid being declared as the purchaser. Unfortunately, the auction concept is falling into disrepute with regard to the sale of real estate. This is because many of those who promote real estate auctions tend to resort to tricks and deceptions in order to make the concept work.


Bait Pricing

This is a trick that involves marketing a property at a price that is lower than a price acceptable to the vendor. Estate agents using bait pricing tell vendors that it will attract more buyer interest in the property. Any form of marketing that involves "invented" figures is fraudulent.

Body Corporate

A body corporate comes into existence when a plan of subdivision, allowing the creation of a body corporate, is registered at the Land Titles Office. Owners of the Lots specified on the plant of subdivision become members of the body corporate.

Buyer’s Agent

A buyer's agent or buyer's advocate is simply a commission estate agent who requires the purchaser to pay a commission in return for being introduced to a property. The concept of the buyer's agent is quite misleading, as the buyer's agent does not have the legal skills or qualifications to properly negotiate the purchase of real estate, and must always refer the client to a lawyer in all but the most simple of transactions.



A caveat is a means by which a Certificate of Title at the Land Titles Office can be "tagged" to show that someone has an interest in the property.

A caveat prevents the Registrar of Titles from registering another interest against the title without first giving notice to the person who lodged the caveat. Generally speaking, once a caveat has been lodged against a property, nothing else can be lodged against the property without the consent of the person who lodged the caveat.

Certificate of Occupancy

A simple explanation:

As the name implies, the Certificate of Occupancy certifies that a home can be lived in. It is a requirement of most local government or shire councils that an occupancy certificate be issued prior to the purchaser of a home taking occupation.

Certificate of Title

A simple explanation:

Imagine a huge book kept at the Land Titles Office, in which every block of land in the State of Victoria has its own page. Of course, such a book would have many volumes and many pages (folios). If you wanted to identify a particular block of land, you would find out its volume and folio number, and use these numbers to look up the relevant page. To find out who owns the land, you would simply turn over the page, and see whose name was last added to the page. This person is the owner.


The planning authority "certifies" a plan of subdivision when it is satisfied that the plan is in compliance with all requirements. Upon certification the plan of subdivision is lodged at the Land Titles Office.


Commission is the way in which estate agents are paid, and is probably the most unfair and unethical form of payment imaginable. Real estate commissions have been described as a form of "wealth tax" levied by estate agents. The average estate agent is not really an agent in the true sense of the term. In fact, the High Court of Australia has said that using the term "agent" when referring to an estate agent is "misleading".

Commission Estate Agent

This term is used to differentiate between the suburban estate agent who operates under an "Estate Agents Licence" and an agent in the representative sense. In comparison, a Lawyer Estate Agent is an agent in the true legal sense, providing full representation for the client

Commission Rage

"Commission Rage" is the term we use to describe a form of commission-driven greed, that causes otherwise decent individuals to engage in improper behaviour.

Common Property

This is the land on a plan of subdivision that does not form any of the lots, but is the subject of shared ownership by the Lot owners as members of the body corporate. Common property may take the form of land, air space, space below the ground or buildings.

Company Share Scheme

This was the first type of "unit" development. While it appears to be similar to a strata unit development, is really quite different.


Conditioning is the term used to describe a process of convincing the vendor to accept a lower price, in order to bring about a sale and to secure a commission for the estate agent.

There are many forms of conditioning, including the following:

  1. 1. Estate agent falsely states that the market has "slumped" in order to have the vendor accept a low price.
  2. 2. Estate agent provides false low "offers" so that the vendor is more likely to accept a slightly higher genuine offer.
  3. 3. Estate agent finds "faults" in the property, using them to "talk down" the vendor's asking price. Conditioning essentially involves a conflict of interests, often includes misleading and deception conduct, and may lead to criminal deception.


Conditions are the "rules" of the Contract of Sale. They tell the parties who is responsible for what, the dates by which things must be done, and what will happen if things are not done as agreed.

Conditions take the form of General Conditions (which are standard inclusions in most Contracts) and Special Conditions (which are inserted in particular Contracts by one or other of the parties.

It is most important that the estate agent is never permitted to draft or insert special conditions into the Contract.

Conflict of Interests

A conflict of interests occurs when a person who has a duty to act in the interests of a client also has a duty to act against the interests of that same client. A conflict of interests also occurs when a person who has a duty to act in the interests of a client is in a position where he/she may be tempted by money or some other motive to act against the interests of that same client.

Contract Note

This is another nasty device used by estate agents (see also the "Exclusive Sale Authority"). The name of the document is the first trick - Contract Note. To most people the term "Contract Note" suggests that the document is something less than a Contract, and that a real Contract will be drawn up later. Playing along with this misunderstanding, many estate agents never use the word "Contract" - they simply call the document an offer, saying that it is not a Contract unless it is accepted.

Strictly speaking, this is true. A Contract does not come into being until there is an "offer" by one person and an "acceptance" of that offer by another. The problem is that the person who signs the offer only discovers that it has become a Contract when the agent rings to say "congratulations, the Vendor accepted your offer, can you come in and pay the full deposit."

Most estate agents use and prefer the Contract Note over any other form of Contract. This is because the Contract Note allows the estate agent to take control of the sale closure.

Contract of Sale

The Contract of Sale is the term used to describe the document prepared by a lawyer, and used to formalise the sale of real estate. However, the word "Contract" has more than one meaning:

Conveyancer Licensed Conveyancer

The Conveyancers Act 2006 was introduced after the Victorian government intervened to stop untrained, unqualified, and inexperienced non-lawyer conveyancers from taking advantage of consumers. Unfortunately, the Conveyancers Act 2006 did little to remedy the problems of corruption and consumer exposure to uninsured risk.

It has been recognised that the severe constraints on the legal work and advice Licensed Conveyancers can offer to consumers, and the limited coverage of their professional indemnity insurance, renders them an expensive and risky alternative to lawyer conveyancers in the provision of conveyancing and real estate related services.

Conveyancing Kits

In their promotional material, conveyancing kit-writers don't emphasise that those who use the kit will still have to pay for rate and planning certificates, title searches, postage, transport to settlement, etc.

There is also an assumption that kit-users have plenty of spare time, and that their time is of no value. Otherwise, the amount of time needed for reading and learning about conveyancing has to be considered.

Conveyancing Work

The Conveyancers Act 2006 states, at Section 4:

"Conveyancing work" means legal work carried out in connection with any transaction that creates, varies, transfers, conveys or extinguishes a legal or equitable interest in any real or personal property, such as, for example, any of the following transactions

(a) the sale of a freehold interest in land.

(b) the creation, sale or assignment of a leasehold interest in land.

(c) the grant of a mortgage or other charge.

In effect, "conveyancing work" is confined to the clerical tasks associated with arranging for the transfer of ownership from one person to another, and the legal work required to achieve this.

Conveyancing work does not include the giving of legal advice or the performing of legal work beyond what is required to complete a standard and straight-forward conveyancing transaction. However, lawyers will ordinarily "keep an eye" on legal matters affecting the purchase or sale of real estate and will advise a client if any issues arise. (We include such legal advice as part of our standard service, and we only charge additional costs if we are instructed in writing to take some form of legal action for a client.)

Conveyancing work does not include extraneous tasks or representing a client in dealings with a bank or other lender.

Cooling Off

Section 31 Sale of Land Act provides a statutory "cooling off" period, during which a purchaser can terminate a contract within 3 days of signing it. Click on the following link to find out about the benefits and problems associated with "cooling off".

Costs Agreement

The Legal Profession Act 2004 requires that a lawyer must enter into Costs Agreement with the client. The Costs Agreement is a written agreement between the client and the law practice, about the payment of legal costs.

Costs Disclosure

The Legal Profession Act 2004 requires that a lawyer must provide a client with a statement disclosing the basis on which legal costs will be calculated, together with other information relevant to the way in which legal costs are charged.


A covenant is a way in which the use of one person's land can be controlled by another and is commonly to protect the "amenity" or value of an area. A developer, for example, could prevent the building of front fences, the parking of heavy vehicles or the building of low-quality homes in a new estate by placing a special condition in the Contract of Sale, requiring the Purchaser to register a restrictive covenant on the Purchaser's new title. A covenant is an encumbrance on the title.

Current Market Value

The current market value of a property is determined according to the following standard. The price at which a willing but not anxious vendor would sell, and at which a willing but now anxious purchaser would buy. Theoretically, if someone bought the property at current market value as an investment, then decided to sell it again, they should be able to find someone else who is prepared to pay the same price in the same market, and so on. This formula was developed by the High Court of Australia in the case of Spencer v The Commonwealth. This was a case about the compulsory acquisition of land, and the owner of the land felt that the compensation offered by the government was inadequate. The High Court had to decide as to how the value of a piece of land should be determined on the day ownership changed.

Justice Isaacs said

"To arrive at the value of the land at that date, we have, as I conceive, to suppose it sold then, not by means of a forced sale, but by voluntary bargaining between the plaintiff and a purchaser, willing to trade, but neither of them so anxious to do so that he would overlook any ordinary business consideration. We must further suppose both to be perfectly acquainted with the land, and cognizant of all circumstances which might affect its value, either advantageously or prejudicially, including its situation, character, quality, proximity to conveniences or inconveniences, its surrounding features, the then present demand for land, and the likelihood, as then appearing to person best capable of forming an opinion, of a rise or fall for whatever reason in the amount which one would otherwise be will to fix as the value of the property. "The Vendor's aim, when selling real estate, is to establish the current market value of the property and then to seek offers over the current market value. The Vendor is seeking a Purchaser who is anxious to buy. In other words, the Vendor want to sell to someone who wants the property as a home and is prepared to pay a higher price in order to secure the property he or she really wants. The best way to determine the current market value of a property is to consult an accredited valuer.


Deception in Real Estate

Deception a major problem in the real estate industry. Falsely telling a purchaser that "someone else is interested" in a property, providing fictitious information to a vendor regarding the value of a property in order to win a listing, and "dummy bidding" are just a few examples of deceptive tactics used in the real estate industry. The types of deception used are many and varied, but they all have one thing in common - they involve some form of trick. In any situation where a party is led to believe in a situation that does not really exist, and they are "tricked" into acting contrary to their interests, there is probably a form of deception involved.


A deposit is an amount of money, usually 10%, paid by the purchaser to secure the contract of sale. Generally, if the purchaser repudiates the contract, the deposit will be forfeited.

Deposit Bond

A deposit bond is really an insurance policy. The policy allows the vendor of real estate to claim against the policy if the purchaser does not pay the full price at settlement, or if the vendor becomes entitled to a forfeited deposit.


Disbursements are the out-of-pocket costs associated with a matter, as opposed to the legal costs charged for the service being provided. For example, in a conveyancing matter the legal costs include the preparation of legal documents and the processing of documents associated with the transfer of ownership. Disbursements include the amount paid to the Land Titles Office for the title search, and amounts paid to rating authorities for rate and planning certificates.

Dual Occupancy

Dual occupancy is the term used to describe a subdivision where a house block is subdivided so as to enable and additional dwelling to be built on it. A dual occupancy development involves at least a two-lot subdivision.



An easement is a right that allows one person's land to dominate another person's land by exercising some right of the dominated land. The land that benefits from the easement is called the dominant land, while the land affected by the easement is called the servient land.

Common examples of easements are:

  1. 1. The right of a farmer to move cattle along a path across a neighbour's paddock.
  2. 2. The right of water authorities to run sewerage pipes across suburban properties.
  3. 3. The right to use a private carpark.

An easement is an encumbrance and will usually appear as a registered easement on the title, but unregistered easements do exist, and can arise as a nasty surprise after a Contract has been signed.


This is the term used to describe a claim that one person has against another person's land. It is important to remember that an encumbrance is against the land and NOT the owner of the land. This means that if the land changes hands, the new owner takes both the land AND encumbrances attached to it. If the encumbrance takes the form of a debt, then the owner of the land may not be able to sell it until the debt has been paid. If the encumbrance takes the form of a restriction of the owner's use, then action can be taken against the owner if the restriction is breached. Similarly, if the encumbrance takes the form of a right that another person has (e.g., a right to use a path across the land), and then action can be taken against the owner of the land if that right is interrupted.

Escorted Inspections

The escorted inspection is where purchasers are escorted to and shown through a property by the commission estate agent. Consumers have been conditioned to believe that the escorted inspection is a service, when in fact the opposite is true. The escorted inspection is really a device used by the commission estate agent to maintain control over the vendor, the property, and the purchaser, so that the commission estate agent seems like an indispensable link between all three. It also assists the commission estate agent to "prove" that the commission estate agent actually "introduced" to purchaser to the property, and to thereby satisfy the requirements of the Exclusive Sale Authority. A careful examination of the escorted inspection reveals that it actually impedes the progress of the sale, it promotes improper conduct, and it places the vendor at risk with regard to security and insurance.

Exclusive Sale Authority

This is the document by which an estate agent is able to exclusively secure the Vendor, the property being sold, and all persons who enquire about the property for a set period of time, and then indefinitely until the Vendor cancels in writing. Devised by estate agents, and distributed through the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, it is one of the most complex and deceptive documents a consumer will ever encounter. The Exclusive Sale Authority consists of an apparently simple and straight-forward front page, and a back page of classic "fine-print" which qualifies and often contradicts the information provided on the front. For example, the front page of the Exclusive Sale Authority states that the Authority is for a specific period of time, but this is contradicted by a condition in the "fine print" that allows the period to run indefinitely until the client cancels the Exclusive Sale Authority in writing. It is a major challenge for any consumer to read the entire document and make sense of it, and Extreme caution should be exercised by any consumer intending to sign an Exclusive Sale Authority.

Extraneous Tasks

Tasks that are not legal tasks, and are not directly related to the conveyancing transaction, are known as extraneous tasks. It is important to differentiate between conveyancing tasks and extraneous tasks, as there can be serious implications for both the lawyer and the client in terms of costs and liability if the distinction is not maintained.


Fidelity Insurance

Fidelity insurance protects the clients of professionals against theft or misappropriation of funds by the professional person or an employee while the client's funds are under the control of the professional person. Conveyancers are not required to carry fidelity insurance, and few conveyancers do. Simply put, if your lawyer had a secret gambling problem and took the proceeds of your property sale to a casino and lost it, there would be little point in trying to sue the now bankrupt lawyer. However, the lawyer's compulsory fidelity insurance would cover the loss.

Fiduciary Relationship

A fiduciary relationship imposes the highest duty known to the law and requires a person who acts on behalf of another to always act in the utmost good faith. For example, a person acting as trustee owes a fiduciary duty to the beneficiary of the trust. In agency law the agent owes a fiduciary duty to the client (known as the principal) and must never allow his own interests to conflict with those of the client. Another aspect of the fiduciary duty is that the agent must make full disclosure to the client. Further, the agent has a duty not to make a secret profit from the fiduciary relationship. When considering the term "agent" it is important not to confuse the role of the commission estate agent with the legal definition of agent.

Finance Subject to Finance

Signing "subject to finance" simply means that the Purchaser is not yet sure as to whether their home loan has been approved by the bank and wants to be able to cancel the Contract if the bank fails to approve their loan application.

Fixed Fees

A fixed fee is a single all-inclusive charge for service. It is possible to quote a fixed fee where the service being provided is of a standard and quantifiable kind. Commission, on the other hand, is a charge determined by reference to the value of a sale. It is an unfair method of calculating fees in relation to the sale of residential real estate.

Fixtures & Chattels

Fixtures are things that are permanently attached to the land so as to become part of the land. Chattels are things that are not part of the land. When land is sold, all fixtures (the house, and things permanently attached to the house) will pass to the Purchaser as part of the land. If a chattel is to be included in the sale, it must be specifically listed in the Contract. If a fixture is to be removed from the property by the Vendor and therefore not included in the sale, then this must be specifically mentioned in the Contract.

Form 3 Body Corporate Certificate

This is the statement provided by a body corporate to any person who requires it. It contains specified information about the body corporate, including financial information.


Fraud is the gaining of an advantage by improper or unfair means. At present, fraud is a major problem in the real estate industry.

Full Agency Representation

While lawyers, conveyancers, and commission estate agents all have involvement in real estate sale or purchase transactions, only one of these has the ability to provide "full agency representation. "Full agency representation is the term we use to describe the situation where the Lawyer Estate Agent actually represents the client through all stages of the sale process, providing legal services and representation from the first listing of the property for sale, through the sale negotiation stages, and all the way through the conveyancing process until final settlement. Full agency representation contrasts with the simple "introduction agent" function of the commission estate agent, and the basic clerical functions of the conveyancer, neither of whom are qualified to actually represent a client in a true capacity.



Gazumping is where a vendor agrees to sell real estate to a purchaser, but then sells it to someone else, usually for a higher price or more favourable conditions. The practice is generally regarded as unfair and unethical. Gazumping is fairly common in the UK, where contracts are usually not finalised until the end of the sale transaction. However, it is rare in Victoria, as parties do not regard a sale as having taken place until contract has been signed.

In Melbourne a form of "contractual gazumping" has emerged. This occurs where the estate agent inserts a condition into the sale contract, allowing the vendor to cancel the contract and to sell to someone else who offers "more favourable terms".

General Law Land

This is land that is not under the operation of the Transfer of Land Act. Ownership of general law land is determined by examination of the "chain of title", a collection of documents showing that the land has been transferred from one person to another over many years. A chain of title must show every dealing associated with the land for the past 30 years, if good title is to be established. These days, the purchase of any general law land must be converted so that the land is brought under the operation of the Transfer of Land Act.


Independent Legal Advice

When a person needs legal advice, it is important that the person providing that advice not only knows the law and how to apply it, but is also in a position to provide that advice without bias. The lawyer must always be totally "independent" of the matter. In other words, the lawyer should never be personally involved in the matter, and should not be acting for, or advising anyone else who is involved in the matter or who stands to gain anything from it.


This is the term used by lawyers to describe what the client wants done. However, it goes beyond this. Taking instructions is not just a matter of doing as the client directs. The proper taking of instructions requires the lawyer to use his or her legal knowledge and skills to ensure that the client is in a position to make the best decision. This is part of the lawyer's fiduciary duty. After finding out what the client wishes to do, the lawyer will advise the client as to the legalities involved, and the options available to the client as the client pursues his/her goal. A client is entitled, not only to make the final decision, but also to be in a position to make the best possible decision, based on the best possible advice.

Only after the lawyer has listened, considered, advised, and then been told which direction the client wishes to take, can the lawyer regard him/herself as having been properly instructed.

Insurance - Duty of Disclosure

When you apply for or change or renew an insurance policy you have a legal duty of disclosure, which means you need to disclose anything that may influence the insurer's decision to insure you, and on what terms the insurer will insure you.

For example, you need to disclose anything that might: -

  1. 1. increase the risk to be undertaken by the insurer
  2. 2. not be evident to the insurer, but may influence the insurance policy
  3. 3. not be evident in the course of business but may influence the insurance policy

This duty applies when you renew or change an existing insurance policy. For a new policy you need to fulfil your duty of disclosure, but you do probably not need to disclose anything further unless you have been specifically asked about it. However, you must be honest in your answers to any questions you are asked, and you need to tell the insurer anything that a reasonable person in your circumstances would include in answering such questions, without hiding anything relevant to the matter, as the insurer will use these answers to determine whether or not to provide insurance. It is also important to realise that your disclosure is made about yourself and any other persons to which you want to be covered by the insurance policy.


The term "introduced" is used by the commission estate agent to determine the point at which the vendor becomes liable to pay the commission. By using a carefully worded definition of "introduced", the commission estate agent is able to claim the commission in the most unlikely of circumstances.


Lawyer Estate Agent

This term describes a lawyer who provides full representation for clients in real estate sale transactions. All lawyers who represent their clients in sale negotiations are "estate agents" as defined in the Estate Agents Act 1980. However, the Lawyer Estate Agent has a much higher responsibility than the commission estate agent, because of the professional service standards and duties required under the Legal Practice Act 1996. In addition, the Lawyer Estate Agent actually represents the client in a true agent capacity.

Legal Action

Legal action is the term used to describe the process of suing someone in order to rectify a wrong, or to be compensated for loss. Taking legal action should always be regarded as a last resort, as it is inevitably costly in terms of money and stress.

Legal Advice

The giving of good legal advice involves the obtaining of an understanding of what the client wants to achieve, the checking of relevant documents, having a sound understanding of relevant principles of law or researching finer points of law, and then explaining to the client what options are available.

Licence Agreement

Sometimes a purchaser may wish to occupy the property before settlement; or a vendor may wish to continue to occupy the property beyond settlement. A Licence Agreement is a simple contract whereby one party grants another party the right to occupy the property. The difference between a licence and a lease is that the lease is a form of "ownership" of the property for a period of time, and the lessee is entitled to remain in occupation for the period of the lease. The licence, on the other hand, can be revoked at any time. If the licence is revoked, the occupier must leave the property and rely on whatever remedies are provided for in the licence.


This is the term used to describe the arrangement between a Vendor and an estate agent, whereby the agent is appointed to act on behalf of the Vendor to sell real estate. Estate agents rely on a contract called the Exclusive Sale Authority to bind the vendor, the property and all enquirers, to the agent. This document is so heavily biased in favour of the estate agent that obtaining a listing with it is almost as good as "money in the bank" for the agent.


A lot is simply a separately identifiable piece of land, part of a building, or air space that is created when a plan of subdivision is registered.



A mortgage is basically a scheme or an arrangement whereby one person borrows money from another and promises to pay the money back in return for offering land as security for the loan. The offer of land as security becomes an interest in the land for the lender. The land itself becomes encumbered by the mortgage. The lender's rights over the land are formally recognised by way of registration on the title at the Land Titles Office. When the loan is repaid, the lender provides the borrower with a Discharge of Mortgage. This document is then registered at the Land Titles Office to discharge (cancel) the mortgage. The person who offers the mortgage to the lender is known as the mortgagor and the lender is known as the mortgagee.

Mortgagee Costs

Purchasers who are borrowing to make their purchase should take care to avoid unfair mortgagee costs. These are cost generated by the lender "behind the back" of the borrower, through direct contact with the borrower's conveyancing lawyer and are often in breach of the Consumer Credit Code. (NOTE: Lawyers Conveyancing has a policy of directing lenders to seek a client's authority before generating such costs.)



Negotiation involves conferring or discussing matters with another person, with a view to reaching some form of compromise or agreement. To be effective as a negotiator, your representative must be well informed about the rules and laws associated with the matter under negotiation and must have precise instructions as to their capacity to negotiate on your behalf. A Lawyer Estate Agent is a qualified lawyer, has professional indemnity insurance to cover the legal advice offered during negotiations, and has experience not only in real estate negotiation but also in various other forms of negotiation (including pre-court negotiation, and advocacy).


Off The Plan

This term describes the sale of land that does not yet exist as a separate “ Lot". The land is described as a proposed Lot only. The Vendor of an "off the plan" lot is obliged to complete the subdivision process or building of units, and to have the Lots individually created through registration of the plan of subdivision.


For the average consumer, the term offer has a simple and straight-forward meaning. However, when applied to the law of Contract, it has a very specific meaning. The confusion between these two meanings is often manipulated and used against consumers.

Offers over Method

The "Offers Over Method" of pricing real estate involves determining the current market value of the property (see Valuer below) and then seeking offers over that figure.


Plan of Subdivision

Basically, the plan of subdivision is a map of a large area of land that has been divided into small blocks of land or "Lots". The plan shows the dimensions of each Lot, and its location in relation to every other Lot in the subdivision. Each Lot is separately numbered. When the plan of subdivision is registered, each lot is identified in terms of its Lot number and the number of the plan of subdivision. Each Lot is registered by way of a Certificate of Title bearing distinct Volume and Folio numbers to identify the title, and the title itself records the Lot and Plan Number of the Lot it represents.

Pre-Approval of Home Loan

The terms "pre-approved" or "approved in principle" both mean the same thing - the home loan is NOT approved.

Pre-Contract Legal Advice

Advice provided by a qualified lawyer prior to the signing of a Contract to buy or sell real estate. By obtaining pre-contract legal advice a consumer is able to consider what matters should be investigated before deciding to buy, what responsibilities have to be fulfilled before selling, and what special conditions may have to be inserted into a Contract to protect his/her interests

Price Ranges

Also called a "buyer enquiry range" this is a trick that involves the invention of two figures: one much lower that the vendor intends to accept, and the other much higher than the vendor expects the property to make. Purchasers are expected to make offers somewhere in between the two false figures. Any form of marketing that involves "invented" figures is fraudulent. The Northern Territory government recently wrote to all estate agents in that State, warning them that price ranges and buyer enquiry ranges amount to misleading and deceptive conduct.

Private Auction

The "Private Auction" is a scheme or sale method which uses secrecy as a tool of control. The estate agent tells the purchaser that he or she is competing with another purchaser, but without revealing details of the competing offer. The refusal to disclose competing bids or offers is usually accompanied by the claim that such disclosure is somehow "unethical". A Private Auction usually starts with words similar to, "There is another offer on the table" or "You're nearly there, you just need to come up a bit" or "We need you to change your offer". The Private Auction may also involve a set date, on which the vendor is supposed to open sealed envelopes and select the highest offer. Private Auctions are easily used as a vehicle for deception, due to the secrecy involved.

Professional Indemnity Insurance

Professional indemnity insurance is held by a professional person to ensure that any claims of professional negligence made against the professional person can be met. To put it another way, there is not much point in suing a professional person if they do not have enough money to pay for your loss - so professional indemnity insurance comes in to cover the cost. Note: Conveyancers do not carry professional indemnity insurance equivalent to that of lawyers...



This is the term used to describe amounts payable to the local council and the water authority for services provided to a property. Rates are adjusted on a pro-rata basis, together with any other outgoings that are payable as a consequence of land ownership.

Registrable Documents

These are the documents, usually collected at settlement in return for the payment of the balance of the purchaser price, that are lodged at the Land Titles Office to transfer ownership of the property to the purchaser. They must be property signed or endorsed so as to allow registration.

Requisitions on Title

These are a series of questions formally served on the Vendor of a property by the Purchaser, by which the Purchaser discovers any issues relating to "title" (i.e., the right or capacity of the Vendor to legally sell the property). Requisitions often include a variety of other questions that are not related to "title” and can run to many pages. Many lawyers now replace the right to submit requisitions on title with warranties in the Contract of Sale.

Retirement Villages

While most people understand the term “Retirement Village" as meaning a form of unit accommodation, it often comes as a surprise to find that there are different ways of "owning" or "occupying" a retirement unit.


Searches & Certificates

Searches and certificates are the means by which information about a property can be obtained from government and local authorities. Because the information is provided in the form of a certificate, and the issuing authority has "certified" the information contained in the certificate, a person who purchases a certificate and relies on it may be entitled to compensation from the authority if the information contained in the certificate is not accurate.

A vendor of real estate is required by law to disclose certain information to intending purchasers. If this information is incomplete or inaccurate a purchaser may be entitled to cancel the contract. Breaching this rule is a criminal offence. The purchaser of real estate must fully investigate the property in order to find out whether any other person will have rights over the property. A neighbour may have a right to cross the property, or the property itself may have accrued debts which the new purchaser will be expected to pay. Part of the process of investigating the status of real estate includes obtaining relevant searches and certificates.


Settlement is the term used to describe the moment when all of the parties involved in a sale of real estate meet together and exchange documents and cheques to complete the matter. Often there are four parties at settlement: the Vendor, the Vendor's Mortgagee, the Purchaser, and the Purchaser's Mortgagee. Usually each of these is represented by a lawyer or other representative. Settlement normally takes place at the office of the party who holds the Certificate of Title (generally a bank). Documents and cheques are examined and confirmed as being in order, exchanged, and the parties leave. That's all there is to settlement.


The terms "solicitor” or "legal practitioner" or "barrister" are just other terms used to describe a lawyer. The term "barrister" is used to describe a lawyer who appears in court on behalf of clients. Barristers usually avoid accepting clients direct and prefer to act on behalf of lawyers in a form of "sub-contacting" capacity. Many law firms described their lawyers as "Barristers & Solicitors". In the State of Victoria, all lawyers can describe themselves as "barrister and solicitor", and all are equally entitled to represent their clients in court. We prefer the term "lawyer" because it is readily understood by everyone as meaning a person whose role it is to advise and assist clients in matters of law.

Solicitor Supervised

The Legal Practice Act prohibits unqualified people from giving legal advice or performing legal work. This means that conveyancers are not permitted to offer any form of legal services to their clients, even though conveyancing matters essentially involve legal issues. Because most consumers would be reluctant to use conveyancers if they knew that their conveyancer could not perform the legal work associated with a conveyancing matter, the concept of "solicitor supervision" has been developed to make conveyancers appear more credible.

Stamp Duty

This is a government charge incurred by the Purchaser of real estate, and payable to the State Revenue Office prior to lodging of the Transfer of Land at the Land Titles Office. It is usually paid by the Purchaser's lender after settlement, with funds retained from the loan moneys. If there is no lender involved, a cheque will be obtained from the Purchaser and paid to the State Revenue Office by the Purchaser's lawyer.

Stamping & Lodging

This is the term used to describe the process of taking the registrable documents (obtained at settlement) to the State Revenue Office, payable stamp duty and having the Transfer of Land "stamped" to show that stamp duty has been paid, and then lodging the documents at the Land Titles Office for registration.

Statement of Adjustments

This document sets out the way in which rates and other outgoings have been apportioned as at the day of settlement. It shows the purchase price, the deposit paid, the amount of rates paid for the rating period and the proportion of those rates to be paid by the Purchaser for the period beyond the settlement date.

Strata Title

This is the term used to describe a title where there is a building on land. The title covers not only depth and width, but also the height between upper and lower boundaries.

Stratum Title

In a stratum subdivision the building is subdivided into lots, with common land, i.e., driveways, stairwells, gardens being owned by a service company and appearing on the subdivision as an additional lot. Stratum units are regarded as unattractive because of difficulties and complexities involving the operation of the company, Corporations Law obligations, and reluctance on the part of lenders to accept them as security. Each lot owner holds a certificate of title for their lot, together with shares in the service company. The lot owners enter into an agreement which governs matters concerning owners' responsibilities and contributions to the operating expenses associated with maintenance of the common land. Purchaser intending to obtain finance for the purchase of a stratum unit should first check with their lender to ensure that the unit will be accepted as security. Purchasers attending auctions are often at risk because there is little opportunity to have the Section 32 Vendor's Statement checked by a lawyer, and they may be unaware that the property is a stratum unit!

Subject to Finance

Where the purchaser had not yet received formal home loan approval, and wants to be able to end the contract in the event that the home loan is rejected, the contract can be made "subject to finance". This means that a condition is added to the contract that allows a fixed period of time, by which the home loan must be approved. If the home loan is not approved, then the purchase may elect to end the contract. Purchasers should always ensure that the finance condition is drafted by their lawyer, or at least with advice from their lawyer. It is often the case that estate agents draft finance conditions such that the purchaser can't help but breach the terms, and risk losing the deposit.


Transfer of Land

This is the document by which the Vendor and the Purchaser direct the Registrar of Titles to transfer ownership of the property from the Vendor to the Purchaser. It may also direct the Registrar to include a covenant or other encumbrance on title.



A valuer is a professional person whose role it is to determine the current market value of a property. Valuers are tertiary trained, and accredited by the Australian Property Institute (API)

Variation to Contract

Where the parties to a contract agree to change the contract after it has been signed, the change cannot be enforced by either party unless the party against whom the change is to be enforced has signed a document setting out the details of the change. (See "Real Estate Contracts" for more information on this requirement.) The document by which the parties give legal effect to the agreed change is known as a Variation to Contract.

Common examples of variations to the contract include:

  1. 1. Changing the settlement date to allow for early settlement.
  2. 2. Changing the settlement date to allow for later settlement.
  3. 3. Adding new terms or conditions.
  4. 4. Deleting existing terms or conditions.
  5. 5. Any other change in the contract that requires the parties' written authority or signatures.