South Australia has become the latest state to bring electronic conveyancing to its property sector following the introduction of much anticipated amendments to its Real Estate Act.
The amendments that came into effect in July permit buyers and sellers in South Australia to perform e-conveyancing via national online real estate platform Property Exchange Australia (PEXA), as long the lawyers, conveyancers and lenders of both parties to the transaction are subscribers to the website.
South Australia joins New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia on the list of Australian states signed up to the platform, with Tasmania scheduled to follow suit in 2017, and the ACT and Northern Territory slated to join at a later date.
PEXA already enjoys the participation of roughly 80 financial institutions around Australia, as well as approximately 2,500 solicitors and conveyancers.
Electronic conveyancing makes the settlement of transactions far quicker and easier for both buyers and sellers, as it dispenses with the need for cheques, face-to-face meetings, and the physical exchange of paper documents.
“Going digital puts an end to costly cheques and piles of documents,” said PEXA CEO Marcus Price in a media statement. “Conveyancers and solicitors acting on behalf of buyers and sellers can say goodbye to sitting on hold in bank call centre queues and travelling to Grenfell Street to attend settlement.”
Experts foresee a major increase in the number of property purchases and land dealings that eschew paper documentation and are conducted purely online as a result of the introduction of electronic conveyancing, leading to huge savings for the industry.
Government-backed National Electronic Conveyancing Development Limited (NECDL), responsible for the launch of PEXA in 2013, estimates that electronic conveyancing could achieve efficiency savings of as much as $240 million per annum for the property sector.
While electronic conveyancing will undoubtedly speed up transactions, members of the legal profession in South Australia have expressed mild concerns about the potential implications for property owners.
David Caruso, SA Law Society President, wrote in The Advertiser that future property owners will no longer require paper certification, instead prevailing upon the Land Titles Office (LTO) to retain a digital record of title.
The obsolescence of paper documents is expected to expunge the possibility of fraud via the theft of tangible certification. It could also, however, open the door to theft or misuse of title information whose only existence is in digital form online.
Caruso notes that such concerns about the vulnerability of title records retained solely in digital form are further heightened by plans on the part the South Australian government to privatise or sell parts of the LTO to commercial service providers, with a sale possible by as early as 2017.