Understanding the house settlement process
Once a property has been sold, there is a period of time – between the contract being signed and the handover of the keys (property settlement) – in which a number of important steps must be completed. Property settlement is usually handled between yourself and your official legal, financial and property representatives.
(A good agent will be able to guide you through the settlement process. If you’re looking to sell your property soon and you’re yet to find the right agent, you can compare agent fees and other information side by side using our free agent comparison service.)
What does ‘property settlement’ mean?
Property settlement is the final stage of a property sale wherein the buyer completes payment of the contract price to the vendor and takes legal possession of the property. The ‘settlement period’ is the amount of time between the exchange of contracts and the property settlement.
How long does settlement take?
From the day the contract is signed, the settlement period begins. As the length of the period is one of the clauses in the contract, the vendor has the ability to negotiate a settlement period with the buyer. Many vendors have no special preference for when settlement occurs. If the buyer is also flexible, then chances are that they will agree on 30, 60 or 90 days. A 60 day settlement is most common (except in NSW which is usually 42 days). That normally gives the vendor and the buyer enough time to organise the financing, paperwork, moving, cleaning and other details that need to be resolved before settlement.
What happens on the day of property settlement?
Exactly what occurs varies from state to state, but generally it’s handled by a solicitor or conveyancer, and:
- If applicable, the finance lender will authorise payment of the buyer’s loan money, and payment will be made to the vendor.
- The buyer (or their solicitor) will authorise the vendor to collect the deposit money from their agent, where it has been held in trust.
- The vendor and the buyer will reconcile any adjustments that were pre-paid or accrued during the settlement period (such as rates).
- The buyer will receive the title of the property and the vendor’s solicitor or bank will organise for the registrar general to register the transfer and home loan (if applicable). The mortgage will be noted on the title until the term of the home loan is completed.
- Both parties will advise the agent, in writing, that settlement has occurred and that the agent can release the keys to the buyer.
What can go wrong during property settlement?
During the settlement period, communication is key. Talk to your agent, solicitor, financial provider and conveyancer about your expectations regarding your settlement period. The two major things that might occur are:
1. Missing the settlement date:
Missing settlement can be very serious. For example, a buyer who is unable to settle can be forced to pay interest on the amount they owe for the property. Usually, they have to pay 10% a year – calculated daily. This is negotiable, as the payment date can be extended or interest payments waived if you, as the vendor, agree.
2. Changing the settlement period:
Once the settlement date is set and the contract is signed, options narrow sharply. The vendor may still be able to change the settlement date, but only if the buyer agrees. If for any reason this becomes necessary, it is important to give as much notice to everyone involved as possible. Remember, the buyer doesn’t have to agree to the vendor’s new terms. It’s best to agree to an appropriate settlement period right from the start.
As settlement day approaches…
The agent will usually arrange a pre-settlement inspection to allow the buyer to see the property before finalising the payment. This is when issues that could delay the settlement may arise. As a vendor, it’s important to make sure the house is looking as it did (or better) than when the buyer last saw it.
A common mistake
It’s not unusual for settlements to be delayed by hours or even a day after the nominated time as everything is organised with solicitors, real estate agents and banks. If you’re the seller and moving to another home that settles on the same day, think about finding accommodation elsewhere that night just in case. If you are the buyer, avoid organising your furniture delivery for the same day, and think about giving yourself a few days leeway before you move in.
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