A couple look over the settlement agreement

When purchasing a home, the settlement process is the last hurdle before your homeownership dreams become reality. The buyer settles the payment of the contract and legally takes possession of the property.

The settlement period begins from the day the contract of sale is signed by both parties, and the length of the settlement is already indicated in one of the clauses stated in the contract. The length of the property settlement is mutually agreed upon by the seller and the buyer – this means that how long it would take can be negotiated.

That said, the length of the settlement period typically lasts between 30 and 90 days. The most common time period for settlements in different states is 60 days, except in New South Wales where it is 42 days.

What is involved in property settlements?

During the settlement period, you will have the time to do some of the finishing touches that will complete the property transaction. Some of the things you will have to do during the period are the following:

  • Conduct a final inspection of the property

  • Check and sign the transfer of documents

  • Insure the property

  • Adjust your water and sewer charges

  • Check on your local council rates

You can always check in with a conveyancer to help you tick all the boxes prior to the settlement day to prevent any issues that can cause delays.

Should you keep the settlement long or short?

The goal of having several weeks for the settlement period is for you and the seller to conduct the required processes to conclude the home purchase.

For most buyers, the time it takes to get their mortgage approved should be taken into consideration.

In typical situations, lenders require two to three weeks to provide you with the approval for your loan.

Once you have a lender's approval, it will take some time to receive and sign all loan documents and have them sent back to the bank for final review. Any missing information or casual error can delay the process for a few days up to a week.

If you are looking to make a more complex transaction — like buying off-the-plan — it would be wise to negotiate for a longer settlement period due to the additional requirements you have to take care of.

Generally, the rule of thumb is to keep the time period tight but allow a little bit of legroom in case of any unforeseen circumstances. Typically, a 60-day settlement period is long enough to accommodate most buyers' needs.

Choosing the best time

Before agreeing to a specified date for the commencement of the settlement period, you have to make sure that you have already inspected the property inside and out and that you do not miss anything that might be an eventual concern.

You can read more about this in our detailed breakdown of settlement day, but know that you will definitely want to check the following things: appliances like the heating and cooling systems, the hot water system, walls, light fittings, window and floor coverings, locks, keys, and automatic garage door controls.

The goal here is to make sure that the property is in the very same condition it was in when it was sold to you.

Once you've completed your final property inspection, you can now either agree to the settlement date proposed or suggest a time that works better for you.

You should bear in mind that once the contract is signed, you will not necessarily be able to negotiate another settlement date very easily. While you can ask the other party for a time extension or a change of date, the seller has every right to ignore your request. This applies to private transactions and purchases through auctions.

Carefully find a common ground between you and your seller to ensure the ease and convenience of the settlement process.

Tips to make the settlement process smoother

There are several things you are highly encouraged to do before the settlement process begins. When done properly and timely, these things will be able to help you go through the settlement process with your mind at ease.

  • Secure insurance for the property. Insurance will protect you should anything happen to the property during the settlement period.

  • Check with your conveyancer that all the measurements and boundaries match what is stated in the Certificate of Title. If anything puts you in doubt, raise the matter with your agent and the seller as soon as possible.

  • Do a title search to make sure what you are buying is legitimate.

  • Be thorough and accurate in filling out documents, cheques, and other files is of the utmost importance in transactions like this. 

  • See to it that every document has the correct spelling and is organized. A misspelled name on the cheque, for example, can delay the settlement process.

  • Get your pockets ready. You need to understand the fees surrounding the sale of the property. For instance, you have to be aware that you will be accountable for paying for the land transfer duty.

Once you reach the final day of the process, you will be able to receive the keys to your new home and start another chapter in your life.