Settlement agent fees explained

If you’re buying or selling land or property, you’ll be aware that your settlement agent will charge you certain fees associated with settlement. But when you break it down, there may be more fees than you realise!

The following provides an overview of what costs you should prepare for.

1. The settlement fee

What is a settlement fee?

The settlement fee is the amount you pay your agent for their work with regard to the settlement. Some agents charge a fixed fee, while others charge based on the value of the transaction. The fee is usually greater for a purchase transaction than for a sale, because there’s more work involved.

It’s wise to shop around a bit before deciding on a settlement agent. Talk to a few different agents about your specific circumstances and ask for a quote. Compare their fees carefully and make sure you’re getting a fair deal. It’s also important to choose someone you feel comfortable with, because you’ll be liaising with them quite a bit throughout the process of settlement.

What’s included in a typical settlement fee?

Your agent will:

  • Assess the contract to make you aware of any potential risks, point out anything out of the ordinary, and follow through on any contract conditions.
  • Conduct a title and plan search to obtain all the necessary paperwork for the Transfer of Land – note that this doesn’t include the fees associated with obtaining these.
  • Provide guidance on how to manage any existing mortgages or encumbrances.
  • Communicate with your bank, broker/lender, and any other parties as needed to get all the necessary documents completed in time.
  • Book and confirm the settlement date, and attend the settlement.
  • Provide you with a final settlement statement and stamped contract.
  • Adjust rates and taxes and arrange payment of any outstanding fees.

If you are the purchaser, your agent will also:

  • Prepare and attend to stamping of a Transfer of Land document
  • Complete of an Electronic Advice of Sale (change of ownership)
  • Provide copies of relevant documents to your broker/lender
  • Provide relevant replies from rating authorities
  • Perform a post-settlement land registry search to ensure the title is registered in your name.

If you are a seller, you should discuss with your agent exactly how and when funds will be managed – that is, how and when funds will be deposited into your account and whether your settlement agent will pay your real estate agent’s commission out of those funds, or whether you’ll need to take care of that yourself afterwards.

Of course, you also have the right to expect that your agent will be available for professional advice via phone and email, and that they will make every effort to keep you up to date every step of the way.

Are settlement fees regulated?

As of February 2016, settlement agents are free to set their own fees with no maximum limit. However, they are bound to:

  • Provide you a written costs disclosure, including all fees, commissions, charges and general disbursements, prior to entering into any agreement.
  • Exclude from the costs disclosure any statutory or other costs payable on your behalf, including tax, duty, fees, levies and other charges payable under law; fees payable to financial institutions; or third-party commissions (though it is good practice for your agent to provide you with details of these additional costs).
  • Adhere to the amount agreed in the disclosure unless there is a significant, unforeseen change in the scope of the work. In this case, the additional amount must be reasonable under the circumstances.
  • Inform you in writing of any change to the agreed amount and confirm with you that you still wish to retain them as your agent before proceeding.

‘Hidden’ settlement fees

Some transactions require further work, and this can’t always be anticipated right from the outset. Often, issues can unexpectedly arise in the course of settlement, and in these cases, additional fees may apply. But you can avoid surprises by planning ahead and understanding the potential complications.

Extra fees often apply for settlements:

  • conducted electronically
  • of a private purchase or sale (for preparation of an Offer and Acceptance)
  • of deceased property
  • of property whose title cannot be located
  • of subdivided property, if titles haven’t been issued appropriately
  • of property registered under a name that has since been changed
  • when Landgate requires verification of identity
  • involving contracts with special clauses, addenda or caveats
  • requiring preparation of a Power of Attorney in relation to the property
  • involving division or allocation of funds, or Transfer of Land to third parties
  • of purchases involving trusts, superannuation funds or corporations
  • involving property seizure and sale orders
  • involving transfer of leases
  • involving communication and couriering to a buyer or seller who is overseas
  • including home visits or extended office visits.

2. General office disbursements

‘Disbursements’ refers to office costs incurred by your settlement agent in the course of completing your settlement. This generally includes costs for postage, phone calls, faxes, printing, and so forth. Any transaction service fees charged by Property Exchange Australia Ltd (PEXA) also fall into this category.

Offices may charge a fixed amount for these disbursements, or they may charge on a per-item basis. Other agents prefer not to charge separately for office disbursements and include office costs in their overall fee or charge only for the most significant costs, such as payment for couriers or express delivery.

3. Government, statutory and financial institution charges

These aren’t required to be included in a cost estimate, but most good agents will provide you with a list of expected costs to help you with budgeting. Typical additional fees include:

  • Landgate search and lodgement fees
  • Government enquiry fees, such as charges by the water provider and local council for the provision of details of outstanding rates and orders and requisitions
  • Stamp duty (for buyers), to a value dependent on the sale price and intent to live in the property. Some concessions and exemptions are available, particularly for first home buyers.
  • Loan establishment fees (for buyers) or discharge fees (for sellers)
  • Mortgage insurance (for buyers), if you are borrowing a large percentage of the property’s value
  • Costs associate with verification of your identity
  • Rates and taxes for the period you will own the property.

And, of course, it’s important never to enter into any large transaction without also having a full understanding of the ongoing costs that it will entail – bank fees, interest and repayments; land tax and/or owners’ corporation fees; utilities and maintenance… the list goes on!

If you’re still not clear on exactly what’s involved in settlement or what costs you may incur, please contact us here at Residential Settlements to talk about it in person.