How Long After Searches to Exchange? Homeowners Hub (Conveyancing)

How Long After Searches to Exchange? Options for Selling My House Fast

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The time between conveyancing searches and exchange of contracts is typically between 1 and 3 weeks.

Although this may seem like quite a long time, you’ll be pleased to know that you’re on the home straight!

In most cases, things usually move forward without any hitches but there are a number of factors that can slow things down.  These may include:

  • The extent and complexity of the pre-contract enquiries;
  • Conveyancing search results;
  • Drawing down mortgage finance;
  • Delays with signing the property over;
  • How good your conveyancer is.

To go through these issues individually…

Pre-Contract Enquiries

Pre-contract enquiries are raised by the buyer’s conveyancer.   They usually relate to the title, rights and obligations over the property and/or underlying land.

Many of the enquiries are based on the Law Society forms completed by the seller at the start of the conveyancing process.

Common matters raised may include:

  • Boundary checks and any previous disputes;
  • Shared utility supply (gas, electric and water/drainage);
  • Whether there are any limits on how the property will be used.  For example, there may be restrictions if a house is going to be used for holiday, short-term or multi-let (House of Multiple Occupation) purposes;
  • Land restrictions / incumbrances;
  • Shared access / rights of way;
  • Constraints on altering the property (through planning or other laws).  For example, if the property is listed or in a conservation area, certain changes will not be allowed;
  • Historical building/development works and relevant planning permissions;
  • Building regulations and certifications (electric, gas, glazing, alarms, timber treatments);
  • Anything flagged up in the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC);
  • Any associated costs involved with owning the property (usually with leasehold properties);
  • If the property is leasehold, further information regarding specific terms may be requested;
  • If the transaction is complex or involves ‘non-standard’ elements (such as a probate sale).

The conveyancer will also need to raise further enquiries on the back of the conveyancing searches results (see below).

Good buying conveyancers will be particularly thorough with the enquiries to avoid any ‘toing and froing’.

When managing our estate agency sales, we always ask conveyancers to start the enquiries once the Law Society forms are returned.

This means that any remainder enquiries resulting from the search results can be dealt with promptly before moving on to exchange of contracts.

The buyer’s conveyancer will report back and deal with any concerns.  When using mortgage finance, the lender will also want confirmation that there is nothing that will negatively affect its security over the property.

Note that the buyer’s conveyancer should not raise any questions regarding the physical condition of the property or anything that would normally appear in the survey.

If you’re buying, you should be aware of the term caveat emptor (‘buyer beware’).  This essentially means that the purchaser is responsible for checking the property before committing.

Search Result Issues

Conveyancing searches are undertaken at the start of the process and can take anything between 3 and 8 weeks to complete.

Much will depend on the Local Authority search (which takes the longest regardless of where you are in the country).

Once these are through, time will be needed for the buyer’s conveyancer to examine the details of each search and forward a detailed report.

This will highlight any potential issues the buyer should be concerned about.  Examples include:

  • Any flood risks nearby the property (and mitigatory measures that have been put in place);
  • Evidence of subsidence, landslips, mines, historic landfills and other hazardous uses;
  • Any local compulsory purchase orders or enforcement notices;
  • Recent planning applications agreed or in motion;
  • Any infrastructure work to be undertaken by the local council which could affect the property;
  • Drainage and/or water supply issues;
  • Previous or ongoing boundary disputes.

If such issues do emerge, the conveyancer will then need to have a conversation with the buyer which will naturally push the exchange date forward.

The implications of going ahead with the sale will need to be fully explained so that the buyer has a clear understanding of any risks involved.

The buyer can legally pull out of the sale or renegotiate the price at this juncture.

If the latter is proposed, the seller can withdraw as well.  If this occurs, the seller should check the conveyancing fees to make sure there are no abortive fees.

However, in our experience, the estate agent should have been aware of this kind of situation from the start.  As a result,  the majority of buyers move forward well aware of any risks (which have usually been factored into the price).

Drawing Down Mortgage Finance

As well as the survey, the mortgage lender will also need to see the search report.

They will also confirm with the buyer’s conveyancer that there is nothing of concern with the enquiries.

It’s worth noting that lenders are taking a stricter than ever approach to affordability assessments and will analyse your finances with a fine-tooth comb.

For this reason, to avoid stalling the exchange, the buyer should always make sure that the information provided in the application is completely accurate.

The buyer’s conveyancer will also make sure that the mortgage offer hasn’t expired.  If it has then, unfortunately, a few extra days will be needed for a new one to be reissued.

The mortgage offer will include the term, interest rates, monthly payment and other associated conditions.

The buyer’s conveyancer will advise as to the implications taking the property loan and liaise with the lender’s legal department where necessary.

The buyer may wish to check the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) as well as the fixtures and fittings agreed as part of the sale.

As long as the buyer’s conveyancer is proactive, there shouldn’t be any unreasonable delays.

The buyer will then be sent a Mortgage Deed (usually together with the contract documentation) to sign.   The buyer will forward the deposit funds to the conveyancer’s client account.

The seller will also be sent the TR1 contract to sign and witness.

Note that if you are selling a property with a mortgage, your conveyancer will need to discharge that loan.  This may delay the process further.

Delays with Signing the Property Over

Once all the paperwork, checks and contracts are produced, it’s down to both the buyer and seller to ensure that they sign and return everything in a timely manner.

Some of the issues we’ve come across prior to exchange of contracts include:

  • Delays in signing contracts and transfer deed (TR1) and sending back.  These documents need ‘wet’ signatures (i.e. with a pen) and to be independently witnessed.  If one (or more) of the parties takes an excessively long time to organise this, exchange can get delayed unnecessarily;
  • Documents getting sent back via ‘snail mail’.  We always recommend posting using Royal Mail 1st class Recorded or, better still, Special delivery;
  • If the buyer is using a gifted deposit (usually from family members), the mortgage company will request confirmation and a signature that the money does not need to be repaid.  They will also track the source of the funds for anti-money laundering purposes which further delays the process.  Delays here can push forward the exchange date;
  • The buyer delays in organising building’s insurance (which the mortgage company will require prior to exchange).  Although it shouldn’t slow things down, the buyer may also want to organise life insurance;
  • The buyer is slow in transferring the deposit or cash input into the transaction.  It’s entirely possible to transfer funds over £10,000 within a matter of minutes these days using a CHAPS (Clearing House Automated Payment System).  However, as there is a fee, some buyers choose to make several payments into the conveyancer’s client bank account which inevitably slows things down;
  • The buyer’s conveyancer delays in issuing the Certificate of Title to the mortgage lender (a pre-requisite for funds to get released).  This contains information regarding the property’s previous ownership amongst other details;
  • If there are multiple parties in the chain, then one delay slows down everything for all;
  • If one of the parties is away, or the exchange date is approaching a public holiday, things can slow down;
  • The buyer deliberately delays signing the contracts in an attempt to potentially gazunder the sale, try and secure a better mortgage deal or may simply have cold feet.  Here we’d suggest contacting the estate agent or requesting clarification from the buyer’s conveyancer;
  • Either conveyancer delays in discharging or transferring mortgage / deposit funds.

How Good the Conveyancer Is

Between the searches and exchange, all of the above factors will be influenced by the efficiency of the conveyancer managing your sale.

If the firm is under-resourced or has taken on a large caseload, the time between the searches and exchange can get held back.

In such instances, if your emails are not getting responded to, seek out the conveyancer’s complaints procedure.  There’s usually a senior member of staff you can communicate with who will usually be able to get things back on track.

Online conveyancers often have tracking systems in place for you to see exactly where things are at.

In the worst-case scenario, you may choose to complain to the Legal Ombudsman.  In most cases, it doesn’t really need to come to that.