Find out what needs to happen before you can exchange contracts.
Before you can exchange contracts, your solicitor will need to carry out important checks on the property you're buying. If you’re selling, they’ll also provide your buyer with essential information about your current home.
Preparing to exchange is usually the longest part of the conveyancing process, and neither a property sale nor purchase is legally binding until this step is complete and you’ve exchanged contracts. Understanding exactly what’s going on can make things a bit less baffling and stressful.
During this crucial stage of the process, your solicitor or conveyancer will check all the essential information about the property you're buying in order to uncover any issues you might need to be aware of.
If you’re selling a property at the same time, your solicitor will provide your buyer and their solicitor with key information about your property so they can make sure everything is in order at your end.
Typically, this process takes four to 12 weeks. However, it can take longer depending on the tenure of the property (see below) and the speed of the solicitors, buyers and sellers in sending information through and responding to enquiries.
If you don’t already know the tenure of the property you’re buying, you’ll need to find out from the estate agent whether it’s leasehold or freehold. Conveyancing for leasehold properties is more complex and can take slightly longer.
You’ll also need to check how long is left on the lease. If there are fewer than 80 years remaining, the property will quickly go down in value and you may struggle to get a mortgage. If you find that this is the case, you can either ask the seller to extend the lease before they sell it to you, or try to negotiate the price accordingly. It’s best to ask the seller to extend it themselves, as you won’t usually have the automatic right to do so until you’ve owned the property for two years.
Find out more with our guide to conveyancing for leasehold properties.
Your solicitor will conduct a number of checks to make sure that there are no issues with the property you’re buying. These include:
Things can go a bit quiet at this point, but this doesn't mean that nothing's happening. Your solicitor will be waiting for the information they've requested about the property you're buying, while also answering queries from your buyer's solicitor about your own property if you’re selling.
Having regular catch-ups with your solicitor can be a good way to put your mind at ease and keep you in the loop.
If you’re selling a property, you'll need to fill out a number of standard forms with information about your home. Your solicitor will use these to create a draft contract for your buyer. The forms include:
It’s vital that you provide all information to the best of your knowledge. If you’re found to have deliberately left out information or lied on the questionnaires, you could risk losing the sale, or even be sued for compensation.
Your mortgage company will want to carry out a lender’s valuation on the property you're buying to make sure it's worth approximately what you’re planning to pay for it.
You should also pay for a more comprehensive survey to identify any issues with the property, such as damp, as the valuation survey is conducted in the lender’s interest rather than yours and won’t include structural checks.
Find out more about the types of survey and how much they cost by visiting our guide to house surveys.
Depending on the results of the searches and surveys, your solicitor may raise a number of enquiries with your seller's solicitor. If you’re selling a property at the same time, they will also answer any queries they receive from your buyer's solicitor.
The enquiries tend to include questions about rights of way, which home contents will be included in the sale, and any planning constraints that the seller is aware of.
If you’re buying or selling a leasehold property, there will be additional enquiries relating to the terms of the lease. These will include factors such as the upkeep of common areas, restrictions about what you can do to the property and whether there’s a managing agent.
Your solicitor should read the full lease and talk you through any of the major issues to consider, but we’d recommend that you read it too and ask your solicitor about anything you’re unsure of.
If you’re selling a property, responding to any enquiries you receive as soon as you can will help to keep things moving, meaning that you reach that all-important exchange of contracts as quickly as possible.
When all the enquiries have been answered, your solicitor will report back to you with any key findings. At this point, you, your seller, and your buyer if you’re selling a property, will need to confirm that they are happy to go ahead.
Once everybody is happy, your solicitor will send you your final contract and any other documents to sign.
Your solicitor will then arrange to collect the deposit funds from you for the property you're buying, and – if you’re selling as well - provide you with a transfer deed to sign for your current property.
Tell your conveyancer if you're concerned about the search results - they will be able to advise you about what they mean, and whether you're right to be concerned.
Ask your conveyancer when you need to pay your deposit - this will help you to ensure your funds are readily available when you need them.
Find out when your seller and/or buyer is hoping to complete - delays are sometimes unavoidable, but having an agreed goal should help keep things moving forward.
Settle for a lender's valuation - opt for a more comprehensive survey of your own to flag any issues that could end up costing you money later on.
Panic about your survey results - surveys are deliberately thorough and can seem alarming. Talk through any issues uncovered with your surveyor or property specialist.
Make any firm plans for completion day - delays can occur and it's risky to book time off work or pay removals companies until you've exchanged.
If you are purchasing a property with a mortgage you will always need to have searches as a condition of the mortgage.
If you are buying a property outright with no mortgage then it's up to you whether or not to have searches.
Generally, it's a good idea to have them as they can uncover important issues about the property such as flood risk, contaminated land and whether any alterations have received planning permission and building regulations consent.
Gazumping happens when you've had an offer accepted on a property, but a different buyer then makes a higher offer which the seller accepts.
If you’ve had your heart set on a property, being gazumped can be very upsetting. You could try to negotiate with the seller via their estate agent, and up your offer if you can afford to. However, given that in England your offer is not legally binding until contracts are exchanged, in reality there’s little you can do.
Next time, once your offer has been accepted, insist the property is taken off the market and any for sale sign replaced by a sold sign.
Keep in regular contact with the seller's agent – tell them when you have completed the survey and received a formal mortgage offer. This assures them the sale is progressing.
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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A conveyancer is a legal professional who specialises in property law and can carry out the legal side of buying or selling a property, remortgaging or extending a lease.
These are legal fees and expenses paid on your behalf by your solicitor or conveyancer. They include the fees paid for official copies of deed and title documents, estate agent's fees, and any bank charges for transferring funds.
If you own a property on a freehold basis, you own it along with the land it stands on. As a freeholder you will have full responsibility for the maintenance and repairs of the property.
If you own a leasehold property, you have a right to occupy the land or property with certain conditions in place, but it’s technically owned by the freeholder.
Find out more about the difference between leasehold and freehold properties.
Searches are formal legal enquiries submitted by a conveyancer to local councils, the Environment Agency, and coal or water authorities. They provide important information that could affect a property's value.
They will show, for example, whether or not the road serving a property is a publicly adopted highway, whether there are any mineshafts close by, and whether the property is subject to any planning enforcement notices.