Real Estate

Understanding Property Titles in Australia

house key on house shaped keychain resting on wooden floorboardsLand ownership in Australia is a big responsibility that comes with a lot of paperwork, registration, and often a great deal of legal advice. Before you buy or sell a property, give property to a friend or relative, or even change your name while the owner of a property, you need to be ready for some serious bureaucracy. Every plot of land and privately owned residential unit has its own entry in the online titles registry which must be carefully updated whenever a change is made to the ownership or status of each individual title. Whether you currently own the title to a valuable piece of Australia or are hoping to attain one, this article will help you understand the basics of our property title system.

The Certificate of Title

The world has come a long way since a physical deed or title represented a person’s real claim to land and the land could essentially be lost or stolen based on the fate of a piece of paper. Instead, all the owner information for each piece of land is stored in an online registry and owners are granted a Certificate of Title, which is a printed representation of the true title information. While possession of the certificate doesn’t equal true ownership, traditionally any certificate of title should be held by the title-owner themselves.

This is a lot like the requirement to have documentation of your car’s registration while driving. It’s not like your car isn’t registered if you left the piece of paper on your kitchen table, but you should still have proof of registry with you while driving. Giving your certificate of title does not constitute as giving them the property, but it does mean you’ll have to order a new one if the certificate isn’t given back to you.

Torrens vs Strata

There are two primary kinds of title, Torrens and Strata. Torrens titles are by far the most common and represent individual plots of land with or without structures. Each Torrens title is created when the lot is designated and can be modified by combining two plots or separating one into multiple separate land-based properties. Strata titles, on the other hand, are for individual units like condos or apartments. With a strata title, you own your own unit and share partial-ownership of common areas with other title holders in the building. You automatically become a member of the owner’s corporation and need to be prepared to share responsibilities for the common areas with them

There are also two less common title types known as Company Share and Stratum, which usually require additional legal advice to understand. With a company share (not a title), a company owns the title and you can buy shares in the company in order to gain access to a unit. In many ways, this is basically renting. With Stratum titles, on the other hand, you get to own your unit but a separate company owns and manages the common areas.

Title Search Before Buying

The state of a title reveals much of what a new home or lot buyer needs to know about the property they’re buying. Who it belongs to, its approximate worth and any mortgages or liens on the property are all clearly stated along with any caveats for ownership or sale. Because buying property requires so much preparation, from the conveyancer to additional lawyer consultations, your first step should always be to conduct a title search, and then again right before the sale is finalised in case last-minute changes were made during negotiations.

You will want to ensure that:

  • The person proposing a sale is the titled owner or
  • The seller has been legally enabled by the titled owner and
  • There are no unknown mortgages or liens on the title
  • The rules for ownership and development of the property
  • There are no other surprises involved in owning or purchasing the property

Mortgages and Property Titles

For most people, the process of buying property involves financing for several years before the property fully and officially belongs to them. In the title system, this means that they are listed as the owners but the mortgage is also noted and the bank gets to hold onto your certificate of title. When you finish paying off the mortgage, you must go through the process of having the title changed again and will finally become the official title holder.

Changing Title Information

There are a number of circumstances in which you, the title holder, may want to change information recorded on the title. Completing your mortgage is a good example. The process of changing title information is known as title dealings and often requires a licensed conveyancer, surveyor and/or attorney versed in property laws. You’ll need to manage your title dealings in cases of

  • Changing your name or address
  • Death of owner and transfer of property to a new owner
  • Purchasing or selling property
  • Mortgaging, remortgaging, or paying off a mortgage

Replacing a Lost Certificate of Title

If your certificate of title is lost or destroyed, it needs to be replaced. As this is your functional proof of ownership, going along without one is a fairly bad idea. However, in order to replace it, you will need the assistance of an attorney and significant supporting documents to prove that you are the owner listed in the official online title before a new certificate is printed for a replacement fee.

Subdivision, Consolidation, and Changing Property Boundariessurveyor's drawing of property boundaries

While making minor changes to your title requires legal consultation, actually changing the boundaries and definitions of one or more titles is even more complex. You will need to employ both a professional surveyor and a property lawyer in order to even begin and then proceed very carefully in order to successfully alter the property boundaries, separate your title into one or more additional properties, or consolidate one or more properties into a single title.

Understanding Australian property titles is a big task, one that has developed into its own industry in order to help others manage their properties. Conveyancers are professionals who have spent the majority of their careers immersed in this industry and can help you with almost every stage of title management from buying new property to minor title dealings. Should you find yourself dealing with a property title, contact us and our network of expert conveyancers will ensure that your title changes are successful and satisfying.