Technology is changing the way we buy and sell real estate. QUT researchers Professor Sharon Christensen and Professor Bill Duncan are making sure legislation keeps pace.
In Australia, use of online settlement system Property Exchange Australia (PEXA), means real estate transactions are now easier, more convenient and less expensive than ever before.
Costly meetings with lawyers and agents to deal with paperwork and cheques are a thing of the past and risks of human error are reduced. However, new technology can open doors to unforeseen problems.
Professors Christensen and Duncan were among the first to investigate whether old laws properly covered new ways of online trading; they published the first Australian report on the topic, Moving Queensland property transactions to the digital age.
They identified a need for better security in digital signature technology and recommended changes to regulations and contracts so that paper-based, in-person settlement processes could be adapted for digital contexts. This led directly to changes to the Property Law Act 1974 (Qld).
“We have modernised property law for the online generation. The process is now quicker and cheaper for everyone.”
Professor Bill Duncan
Protecting everyday consumers
Before a property can be sold, buyers need to be assured everything is above board and be informed of any defects. Traditionally, most of the cost involved in this process has been borne by the seller. Buyers are then responsible for understanding and verifying the information before they act on it.
But complex disclosure laws often require both buyers and sellers to carry out the same checks and even pay for third party verification. This leads to unnecessary complication and expense.
The Queensland Government employed Professors Christensen and Duncan to review the laws governing this process. They pointed out that buyers didn’t need a bulk of confusing, specialised information; they needed relevant materials presented in a convenient form, written in plain language.
As a result of their research, the Land Sales Act 1984 (Qld), the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (Qld), and the Property Law Act 1974 (Qld) were all significantly changed to the benefit of consumers.
“It is now simpler for the average person to understand what they are buying. The focus is on the details that will actually affect them.”
Professor Bill Duncan
Lawyers and real estate industry professionals have also benefited from the research
Professors Christensen and Duncan were hired by Lexon Insurance to write the Queensland Conveyancing Protocol, which outlines best practice for lawyers in real estate transactions.
With regular updates, Professors Christensen and Duncan have kept the protocol in line with advancements in digital trading. As a result, claims for professional negligence in real estate transactions have declined and law firms’ insurance premiums have lowered.
When PEXA launched in Queensland, Professor Christensen saw the need for practical guidelines for lawyers using the platform. She was instrumental in initiating and drafting the Queensland Law Society Guidelines for E-Conveyancing.
Professors Christensen and Duncan continue to focus on modernising property laws. Through their research they seek to protect a new age of consumers in the digital era.
Real world impact
Influencing property laws around the world
Professors Christensen and Duncan have been involved in many policy, practice and legislative changes to property law in Queensland, including:
- developing online settlement system Property Exchange Australia (PEXA)
- significant changes to the Land Sales Act 1984 (Qld)
- significant changes to the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (Qld)
- significant changes to the Property Law Act 1974 (Qld).
Professors Christensen and Duncan’s paper on real estate disclosure laws and consumer protection (co-authored with Evonne Miller, Stephen Corones, David Round, and Mark Burdon) was included in a mandatory course to obtain a real estate agent’s licence.
The New Zealand Real Estate Agents Authority drew on Professors Christensen and Duncan’s research into consumer behaviour in residential real estate transactions.
Professors Christensen and Duncan’s research informed a review of seller disclosure laws in Canada, resulting in a report presented to Industry Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs.
Recommendations from Professor Christensen’s research papers were used in a review of legal frameworks for land administration and registration of title laws in Uganda, resulting in new legislation: the Registration of Title Bill 2013 (Uganda).
Journey to impact
Professors Christensen and Duncan’s report Moving Queensland Property Transactions to the Digital Age is released. This is the first Australian analysis of gaps in traditional regulations when it comes to covering electronic property transactions.
Professors Christensen and Duncan are engaged by Lexon Insurance to prepare the Queensland Conveyancing Protocol, which sets out the standards for lawyers to follow in real estate transactions. As a direct result of the Protocol, claims for professional negligence in conveyancing transactions decline significantly.
Australian Research Council Discovery Grant is awarded to Professors Christensen and Duncan, Pamela O’Connor and Doug Fisher for An Institutional Framework to Facilitate Sustainable and Integrated National, Cultural and Built Resources in Governance.
Property Exchange Australia Limited (PEXA) is formed to address the need for a nation-wide electronic platform for property transactions.
Professors Christensen and Duncan are appointed as members of a Ministerial Review committee, providing advice to the Queensland Government in a review of information disclosure laws and operational frameworks in property transactions.
The research results in changes to the Land Sales Act 1984 (Qld), the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (Qld), and the Property Law Act 1974 (Qld).
Professors Christensen and Duncan, along with their colleague Associate Professor Bill Dixon, are appointed by the Queensland Attorney-General to undertake the Queensland Property Law Review, with the aim of reducing red tape and maximising benefits to consumers.
PEXA completes its first fully digital land transaction in Victoria, and later in the year launches in New South Wales.
PEXA launches in Western Australia and Queensland.
Professor Christensen is instrumental in initiating and drafting the Queensland Law Society Guidelines for E-Conveyancing, which details recommended practice for solicitors using PEXA.
PEXA launches in South Australia.
What others are saying
"The work of Professor Bill Duncan and Professor Sharon Christensen in property law research, particularly through the Commercial and Property Law Research Centre, has been outstanding. For many years they have provided a bridge between academic research and the profession, addressing areas of property law requiring review. Their clear and well-researched issues papers, option papers and final reports reflect input from the legal profession, other stakeholders and the public."
Partner, Corrs Chambers Westgarth