Last year, 2018, saw some big changes in real estate, and you guessed it -- as a buyer or seller, most of them will affect you in some way.

The trick is, while agents are regularly informed of changes because this is their bread and butter, as buyers and sellers who jump in and out of the industry based on your need and property life cycle, it can be exceptionally difficult to keep up and know your rights.

Real estate regulation and practice is complex -- there are a lot of rules and they are changed and updated all the time. In 2018, in several states, one of those changes related to property settlement -- that last stage of your purchase or sale that effectively sees the transaction finalised and the ownership of land transferred from one person to another.

This quick Q and A will give you the rundown on this change, why it occurred and how it might affect you.

1. What is conveyancing?

As mentioned, this change relates to the final steps of a sale; that stage where a property moves from being owned by the seller, to the buyer.

Previously, this transfer was all managed offline, usually by a conveyancer or solicitor. It is their responsibility to prepare all your documentation and make them available to relevant parties, among other tasks.

Often this preparation includes quite a bit of research, especially when developing the contract for sale as it must be accurate and as exhaustive as possible.

Once the property is bought and sold, the conveyancer will calculate your taxes and fees (remember, you need to pay stamp duty, possibly capital gains, fees for forms and applications), submit the forms for title transfer and make sure all paperwork is in order.

Of course, buyers and sellers can do all this themselves, but it can still be costly, and getting it wrong may mean forfeiting the sale and the deposit!

2. So, that's conveyancing... what is e-conveyancing?

These days, we add 'e' and 'i' to things and suddenly it means they are online or digital versions of something possibly already existing -- iphone, e-commerce.

E-conveyancing is no exception;

basically, it just means those lodgement stages of settlement can now be conducted entirely online.

3. How does e-conveyancing actually work?

In practice, e-conveyancy is designed to simplify the lodgement process during settlement.

Right now, in most states (though this may be set to change in 2019), e-conveyancing does not mean you can sign your contract for sale electronically -- this still needs to be done in person due to restrictions on electronic witness signatures. Other documents, however, can be signed electronically.

Because of this, one of the first steps in e-conveyancing is your solicitor/conveyancer requesting you physically sign an authorisation that permits them to electronically sign documents on your behalf.

This might sound a little backward -- a written signature, just so your solicitor can sign electronically -- but some laws are yet to catch up, so don't be surprised if this changes in the future.

As mentioned, your contract for sale will usually still be provided and signed by you in a paper form.

Once this is complete, your conveyancer will then create and fill in transfer documents online, using an e-conveyancing platform, and electronically sign them on your behalf. They will also prepare for and facilitate your disbursements (for example, the final payment for the property to the owner) via the e-conveyancing platform.

Essentially, where once, settlement was something that needed to be physically attended and facilitated through a lot of phone calls and chasing, it can now all be completed relatively quickly and efficiently online.

4. Why was e-conveyancing introduced?

There's no denying the introduction of e-conveyancing was quite controversial and was met with some fierce opposition by industries not widely known for their desire to openly embrace change.

According to the various states that have introduced e-conveyancing, it:

· Streamlines the settlement process making it more efficient

· Reduces the opportunity for human error that can be very costly

· Reduces the risk of fraud and delayed settlement

· Is more transparent and collaborative -- buyers and sellers are given access to a shared digital settlement workspace and an app so they can see the tasks required of them and the progress of their sale

· Enables quicker research and lodgements

· potentially provides payments to vendors on settlement day

· Should result in lower costs to clients for conveyancing

5. Where is e-conveyancy mandated?

Electronic or e-conveyancy is available in most states in Australia. In NSW, Victoria and Western Australia it is currently mandated to some degree (some transactions are mandatory), with an aim to make it completely mandatory at various points in 2019.

6. What is PEXA?

PEXA or Property Exchange Australia is the only electronic lodgement network -- it is the national system for e-conveyancing. It is owned by several shareholders, including Macquarie Capital, the four big banks and the states of NSW, WA, QLD and Victoria.

E-conveyancy is regulated within each state where it is practiced and the Australian Registrars' National Electronic Conveyancing Council was established to oversee development of regulatory framework.