A map showing the difference between Edinburgh and London

How overseas sellers are impacted by identity checks

A fiasco during a recent settlement has revealed some major considerations for dealing with new identity checks. Since the infamous Nigerian property scams in 2010 and 2011, extra measures to check the identity of sellers have been put in place by Landgate – including the requirement to present 100 points of identification (update: As of January 2013, new verification of identity processes have been put in place), and to have the signing of Transfer of Land documents witnessed by an Australian consular officer when the seller is overseas.

In this particular case, the seller of a Perth home resided in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they had moved to be with family. As per regulation, this seller was required to have an Australian consular officer – such as an ambassador, consul, or secretary at an embassy – witness them sign the Transfer of Land documents. However, Edinburgh has no Australian embassy – making the closest embassy the Australian High Commission in London, England!

At the beginning of settlement, we brought this issue to the attention of all parties and set a settlement deadline of two months from the beginning of settlement. It was important to allow plenty of time for the seller to travel to England and sign the transfer of land documents.

However, part-way through the settlement, the buyer’s real estate agent requested the deadline be bought forward to only three weeks into the future. The result was that the seller had to drastically adjust their plans and drive across the UK to the Australian High Commission in London, weeks sooner than intended, to complete the settlement on time and avoid penalty interests. As this embassy does not take appointments (and is only open three days a week), there was a risk that the seller might not have be able to sign the documents on the day they intended.

To make matters even more complex, the seller was required to have an original rates notice when signing the documents. As the seller had not brought any such documentation with them when they left Australia, they had to wait while the rates notice arrived by post.

Further complicating the matter, another important (but potentially difficult) requirement of the land titles office is that the conveyancer satisfies themselves that the person is who they say they are. In this case, we were unable to use online searches to achieve this as our seller wasn’t working – but as their sales rep was in close contact during the listing and sales process and was able to provide uniquely identifying features of their property. Without this assistance, settlement would have been delayed.

In summary, the new shortened deadline, coupled with the new identity legislation, left very little room for error, and it was only through the joint re-organisation efforts of all parties that the seller made the settlement deadline.

When an overseas seller is going through a property transaction, it is highly important to be aware of the unique settlement requirements of that seller. Keep in mind that the seller will need to make the trip to their closest embassy, and let them know well in advance what documentation they will need to be able to complete the transaction.