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:
To go through these issues individually…
Most are based on the Law Society forms completed by the seller at the start of the conveyancing process and usually relate to the title, rights and obligations over the property and/or underlying land.
Common matters raised may include:
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.
For example, any physical factors that could render the property unmortgageable could cause issues prior to exchange. Similarly, legal questions such as unfulfilled overage clauses, restrictive covenants, positive / negative easements or other encumbrances need to be checked.
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:
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).
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.
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:
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.