Buying guide

What do property lawyers do?

If you’re buying or selling a house you’ll need a lawyer with property expertise. Here’s why.

Last updated: 20 December 2023

A good property lawyer is essential when buying or selling real estate. They can take the stress out of the transaction, ensure you know what you’re buying and even save you thousands of dollars.

But what do property lawyers actually do? And do you really need a lawyer to buy or sell a house in New Zealand?

How to find a good property lawyer

When searching for a property lawyer it’s worth spending a little time to make sure you find an expert that you can trust. To find yours you could either Google property lawyer and look for a lawyer from a well known and established firm - preferably one who has several positive reviews.

Alternatively you could ask friends and family if they can recommend a property lawyer, or take the recommendation of another professional you’re working with (like a mortgage broker).

Questions to ask your property lawyer

Before you choose a property lawyer or conveyancer it’s a good idea to ask them a few questions to ensure they’re right for you. Your questions could include:

  • Are you a property specialist?
  • Can you help with X/Y/Z specific concerns with my property purchase or sale?
  • How much experience do you have?
  • How much do you charge and how do your fees work?

When it comes to fees lawyers often charge in two different ways - some charge a flat fee per transaction and others charge an hourly rate. If yours charges a flat fee make sure you know what’s included in that fee. If they charge an hourly rate it's worth requesting a quote in advance to make sure you’re not blindsided by a large invoice.

Keep in mind that buying a property is a serious decision - going with the cheapest lawyer isn’t necessarily in your best interests.

You'll need the help of a good lawyer whether you're buying or selling.

Do I need a conveyancer or a lawyer?

When searching you may find both lawyers and conveyancers. Conveyancers specialize in property transactions only, whereas lawyers have a broader range of expertise and will be able to help with more complex matters.

In most cases when buying and selling property a conveyancer is all that’s needed, but if your transaction is complex or involves a dispute, a lawyer may be required.

What your property lawyer will do for you

Your conveyancer or property lawyer should play a key role in both property purchases and sales. Here are a few examples of how they might help:

Providing advice on every part of the property purchase or sale to ensure you know what you’re getting into.

  • Reviewing or preparing sale and purchase agreements to ensure the deal is documented correctly and that the contract contains all the standard terms. They can also help with adding conditions to sale and purchase agreements.

  • Reviewing the LIM report. This is the record of all the files your local council has on your property, which may include building permits, utilities and more.

  • Searching and checking the property’s title to check and share any information that may affect you.

  • Handling documents and arranging signing of key documents, including mortgage documents.

  • Assisting with due diligence and informing the other party when conditions are met or not met.

  • Liaising with other parties to the property transaction to negotiate, make changes to the sale and purchase agreement or resolve conflict.

  • Managing the settlement process. Organizing the exchange of money and keys, and completing transfer of the title to the new owner.

This is by no means an exhaustive list - your property lawyer may be able to help with much more. Plus having an expert you can trust by your side can help provide peace of mind and make the entire process easier.

A good property lawyer can make any property transaction much easier.

Do I need a lawyer to buy or sell a house in NZ?

Yes, it’s always recommended that you use a lawyer or conveyancer when buying or selling property in New Zealand. While it may be possible to complete a transaction without one, property transactions can be complex and the stakes are high, so it’s always best to have expert advice.

While the fees may seem expensive, the value a good property lawyer can provide means they’re worth it.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not legal advice and does not take your individual circumstances and situation into account. We encourage you to seek assistance from a trusted legal advisor or other professional advice.


Ben Tutty
Ben Tutty

Ben Tutty is a regular contributor for Trade Me and he's also contributed to Stuff and the Informed Investor. He's got 10+ years experience as both a journalist and website copywriter, specialising in real estate, finance and tourism. Ben lives in Wānaka with his partner and his best mate (Finnegan the whippet).