Buying and selling
England and Wales

Understand the legal process of moving home with our step-by-step guide below - or get a free quote for your conveyancing from our preferred partner.

Exchange

Once all parties are happy to go ahead, the next step is to sign and exchange contracts with your seller and your buyer. At this point the transactions become legally binding.

Normally, you’ll exchange contracts somewhere between one and four weeks before completion (the point at which you get your keys), although it's technically possible to exchange and complete on the same day.

Your conveyancer will check with you that you’re happy to proceed, and will speak to your buyer and seller’s respective conveyancers to organise a time and date to exchange contracts.

Exchanging contracts

The actual exchanging of contracts usually involves phone calls between all of the ‘linked’ conveyancers in the chain to confirm that the respective contracts are identical, after which the conveyancers will post them out to one another.

At the same time your conveyancer will send your deposit funds to your seller's conveyancer, and your buyer’s conveyancer will send their funds to yours.

Once exchanged, you, your buyer and your seller are legally bound to complete on the completion date. Major financial penalties will apply if any party pulls out after this point.

For this reason, it’s extremely rare for a sale to fall through after contracts are exchanged, so you’ll be perfectly within your rights to heave a sigh of relief.

Final checks

Around the time you exchange contracts, either just before or shortly after, your conveyancer will conduct a final search – known as a Priority Search or a Land Registry Search. This is to check that nothing has changed regarding the ownership of the property in the time since you made your initial offer.

This search also prevents anybody else from changing or making new entries on the property’s legal title, so you know you won’t get any nasty surprises after completion.

Around this time, your conveyancer will send you a final statement – sometimes known as a completion statement – which shows you the total amount you’ll owe on completion. Your statement will include:

  • Search fees
  • Stamp duty land tax
  • Any rents or service charges payable on a leasehold property
  • Conveyancer’s costs
  • Any applicable mortgage fees
  • Estate agent’s fee,

Your conveyancer will also request a final redemption statement from your mortgage company, confirming the exact amount you’ll owe on the day of completion. This will include any early repayment fees that apply.

Assuming you’re not exchanging and completing on the same day, you can also use this period to get organised for the move, which usually takes place on the completion date.

Related FAQs View all FAQS >

A freehold property is owned by you outright, together with the land it stands on. A leasehold property is ultimately owned by the landlord – or freeholder – but with ownership granted to the leaseholder for a specified time (normally 99 years for a standard flat).

If you’re buying or selling a leasehold property, the conveyancing process can take slightly longer as there will often be additional enquiries relating to the terms of the lease.

Find out more about the conveyancing process when buying a leasehold property.

Typically, a sale or purchase in England or Wales will take around 8-12 weeks from the moment an offer is accepted to the point of completion.

However, the conveyancing process varies from case to case and it can take longer depending on the complexity of the transaction, the number of people in the chain (if applicable), and how quickly you can respond to queries from your conveyancer.

Not always. If you opted for a conveyancer or solicitor offering a no-sale, no-fee deal, you shouldn’t have to pay your conveyancing fees if the sale falls through.

You may still be responsible for extra fees, though, such as any searches that have already been carried out.

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  • Exchange

    Exchange of contracts is the point in the process when both the buyer and seller commit themselves to a legally binding agreement.

    To exchange, the seller's conveyancer draws up two copies of the same contract and both the buyer and seller signs their own copy. When both parties are ready to legally commit, the two contracts are exchanged.

    Once contracts are exchanged, both the buyer and the seller are legally bound to go through with the house sale.

  • Early-repayment fee

    This is a penalty charged by your mortgage lender if you pay off the mortgage early. It compensates the lender for lost interest.

  • Deposit

    The amount paid by a buyer to a seller when contracts are exchanged to make a property sale legally binding.

  • Completion statement

    A completion statement shows all the payments involved in the conveyancing process.

    It includes the amount you are paying or receiving for the property, a breakdown of the legal costs, the outstanding amount on your mortgage and also shows any additional funds owed to or by you to complete the sale or purchase.

    You’ll receive your completion statement from your conveyancer just before the exchange of contracts.

  • Completion

    The point at which the transaction (the sale, purchase, remortgage or lease extension) is completed. When buying a property, this is the date that you become the legal owner and get the keys to your new home.

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