A property title holds legal information about a piece of property, including details about the land and crucially who owns it or has a mortgage on it. During settlement of a property transaction the title is updated to reflect the change in ownership. A conveyancer or solicitor will usually conduct a search of property title records during the settlement process, or it will be included in the contract of sale.
State-by-state property title guide
The New South Wales Department of Land and Property Information no longer offers online title searches, but refers users to a selection of approved information portals. It does allow people to do searches in-person or through its document request service. The online portals offer a range of searches related to property information that includes property title searches.
- Direct Info - $16.90 for a title search
- MHE (Morris Hayes & Edgar) - $20.54 for a title search. You will need to create an account
- Hazlett’s - You’ll need to create an account to access search information
- Legalstream - You’ll need to create an account to access search information
- CITEC Confirm - You’ll need to create an account to access search information
- SAI Global - You’ll need to create an account to access search information
- Infotrack - You’ll need to create an account to access search information
- GlobalX - You’ll need to create an account to access search information
Queensland allows you to do online title searches and access documents for $18.15. You need to go to the land, housing and property section on the environment, land and water page of the Queensland Government website. You will find a section on property titles, valuations and surveys where you can complete a property title search.
You can access property information in ACT through Access Canberra. However, to do searches and to access titles, you will need to visit a local Office of Regulatory Services or the Environment, Planning and Land Shopfront. There is an online subscriber service for a cost of $220 which covers a security token you will receive after you execute a Land titles online subscriber agreement. This subscriber service is more suited for professionals, as it is built for those who will be conducting title searches on a regular basis.
Victorian property information is accessible online at the government’s LANDATA website. This is where you conduct a property title search. There is a wealth of other information you can order at the same time as the property title search. It's a simple process, and the land title itself will cost you $14 as it incorporates the Register Search Statement (Title) and Land Index Search. You may also include other documents such as Copy of Plan ($6.50) depending on the property’s history.
An example of a property title search.
You can do a title search online in Tasmania through The List (Land Information System Tasmania) website. You will need to create an account to do any searches. A land title search, called a Folio Text on the website, will cost you $30.60.
For SA, you can access property titles and other property information through the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure’s SALIS (South Australian Integrated Land Information System) website. You can do a search in SALIS through an account you register with them. Alternatively, there are select searches you can do as a guest, one of which is a land title search. The search will cost $27.75, and the site has a simple step-by-step guide for you to follow.
To do a title search online with the Western Australian government, you will need to visit the Landgate website. On the site, you will need to enter certain property details and pay $24.85.
The Northern Territory doesn’t allow for online searches for property titles. You will need to visit a land titles office in person, request a search by fax or over the phone. Professionals, such as conveyancers who regularly do land title searches, have access to an online portal called the Integrated Land Information System (ILIS) for a monthly fee.
What do you need to check on a property title?
Whether you are doing the checks yourself or have hired a professional to do the relevant searches for your purchase, there are key things you need to look at when you review the land title.
Make sure that you are purchasing the property from the authorised and registered owner of the property. There could be cases where individuals who aren’t registered as the official owners of the properties are putting them on the market. It is best to flag these issues so the issue is resolved before the sale is finalised.
These are restrictions placed on the land, whether by local council, land zoning or for other reasons. Some examples of encumbrances that may appear on a property title are mortgages held by the owner or easements that affect the use of the land.
An easement restricts the use of the land you are purchasing. These restrictions can range from the ability to build certain structures to the placement of water pipes or drainage on your land. It’s important to check for easements both for any future plans you may have for the property as well as the current structure on the land.
A caveat is when another party holds a claim on the property, such as a mortgage or other loan. The property’s owner can easily remove these caveats from the title before or at the time of settlement, depending on the type of caveat.
If there is a covenant on the property title, you should seek legal advice as they typically restrict what you can do or how you can interact with the property. One example of a covenant would be restrictions on the type of materials you can use to build a structure on that property. If there have been changes made to the property, there may be a note about this marked as a covenant. It will also include a copy of the plan associated with the change.
Further information recorded with the land titles office
There is a final section on a property title for anything that has been registered with the land titles office. If the land title office doesn’t have anything registered in their system, they will simply put NIL in this section.
Checklist for checking the property title
- Check to make sure you are buying from the registered owner of the property
- Check to make sure there are no caveats or encumbrances on the property that will affect you taking ownership
- Check if there have been any changes made to the property that are not registered on the title. This is also something to check with the plan of the property registered with the land titles office
- Check to make sure all easements have been properly disclosed by the seller
Types of property titles
There are different property titles used for different property types and require different ownership structures. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Freehold or Torrens title: This is the most common type of title used for standalone properties in Australia.
- Old system title: There was no formal system for registering the ownership of land when the first governments of Australia were formed, and any properties that have not been transferred to the freehold or Torrens title system are known as old system title properties.
- Qualified Torrens title: There are some Torrens title properties that have warnings on the land due to another person having an interest in the property. They are typically old system title properties that were transferred to the Torrens title system.
- Limited Torrens title: These are Torrens title properties that have not been adequately surveyed, so their boundaries may not be correct. You can convert these to a standard Torrens title property by paying an additional fee for a thorough investigation to get confirmation of the land’s boundaries.
- Group or Strata title: This title type is used for apartments or townhouses where there is more than one property located on a single parcel of land, and therefore no one individual holds ownership of that parcel. The name of this title type does vary from state to state. There is usually common property and all owners are responsible for the upkeep. Often a strata or owners committee is formed for this purpose.
- Community title: Similar to strata titles, these are most often used for subdivisions or neighbourhoods where there is common property that the community or neighbourhood is jointly responsible for the upkeep. This is most commonly used for property estates, where there might be certain restrictions in order to maintain a consistent aesthetic.
- Company title: These exist when a company holds the overall ownership of the complex or land, and then others own shares that give them ownership rights to an apartment in the complex or a property on the land. They are similar to a strata or group title, but there is one owner of the land and the whole company may need to give permission for any sale, lease or mortgage of the unit you own with the shares.
- Leasehold title: This is usually used for rural properties that are owned by the government but leased out to an owner. Some examples are large wheat or cattle farms, as well as some churches. As the government retains ownership of the land, they can release the leasehold at any time in order to subdivide and sell off the land. This means those leasing it will need to move off the property. All properties in ACT are held under leasehold titles, so you may need to do more research if you are purchasing in ACT.
- Titles used by retirement villages: Retirement villages are unique in that the residences offer the option to either rent or purchase. As such, there are multiple types of titles that are applicable for retirement villages. Thorough research is advised when entering into any agreement in such a property.
A thorough understanding of how property titles work and how to access them ensure you are better informed about the property purchasing process.