Residential conveyancing usually lasts two to three months from acceptance to completion; if a transaction is particularly complex, it can take even longer. The timeframe can vary depending on the solicitor you choose, the situation’s complexity, financial obstacles, search results, whether you are the buyer or the seller, and whether you are part of a property chain. Some of these factors are within your control, but many are not. To have a realistic target completion date, you need to understand the process’s stages and some of the issues that can delay the process and things you can do to try and mitigate potential delays.
With a chain
A property chain connects buyers and sellers through a common goal – moving home. It occurs when two or more parties depend on each other to finalise their purchase. A chain usually has a seller at the top who is not moving into a new property and a first-time buyer at the bottom.
The process can be slowed significantly depending on its complexity when there is a chain. If multiple people are in the chain, and one sale falls through or suffers from delays, this impacts all of the other transactions. When you are part of a chain, you usually have to be more flexible in relation to completion dates as the whole chain will need to agree the same date. If you have a reasonable completion date in mind at the outset of your transaction, you can mention this to your solicitor so they can ask the chain to work towards that date if possible. We would also recommend to advise your solicitor of any completion dates you cannot achieve i.e. if you have a holiday booked within 2-3 months of the beginning of the transaction. This will ensure transparency between all parties in the chain.
It is also useful from the outset, to find out the length of the chain to decipher whether chain delays may impact you during your transaction.
Without a chain
When a home is bought or sold without a chain, the process is typically much quicker and usually takes two months from acceptance to completion. Although there is still the potential for delays, for example, unfavourable survey reports or issues highlighted from search results, you will not be relying on the completion of multiple transactions to move home.
To establish a time frame, you need to understand how long each step of the conveyancing process takes and what it entails. The key to a quick conveyancing process is to be prepared and to carry out actions as soon as possible.
Pre-Contract – approximately 2 weeks
Once the seller has accepted an offer from a buyer, the property’s estate agent draws up and sends a copy of the memorandum of sale to both parties. It is critical, at this stage, that you take three steps:
Step 1: Hire a conveyancing solicitor as soon as possible to begin the legal and financial processes as quickly as possible. Once you have done this, ensure you return any documentation the solicitor requires as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary delays.
Step 2: If you are a buyer, submit your mortgage application or make your funds available.
Step 3: Contact a surveyor to conduct a property survey. Potentially this can take up to a month; the busier they are, the longer it will take to receive your report.
During the pre-contract stage, your solicitor will:
- Offer legal advice
- Carry out identity checks and request payment on account for searches
- Request a draft contract
- Start property searches
Bear in mind that some local authorities take up to six weeks to return search results, so the earlier this is completed, the better chance you have of getting your report quickly.
Mortgage offer – approximately 4 weeks
It is important to remember that a conveyancer can’t give you financial advice, so it is essential that you speak directly with your bank or a mortgage advisor if you have any questions.
If the buyer had a Mortgage Agreement in Principle before making an offer on the property, this stage should run reasonably smoothly. Once the seller has accepted the offer, you will need to speak directly to your bank or mortgage advisor to submit the full mortgage application. The mortgage lender will then begin the process of turning your mortgage application into an official mortgage offer. Please be aware, this can take a number of weeks and we would therefore recommend this is applied for as soon as possible, and ensure any queries the lender has are responded to with a timely manner.
Nevertheless, even once your mortgage offer has been issued, there is still the potential for delays, mainly if the searches or enquires reveal any issues with the property or if the buyer can’t meet the conditions laid out by their mortgage lender. Delays can also arise when the buyer hasn’t revealed to their solicitor that they are receiving a financial incentive i.e. a gifted deposit. As this needs to be reported and approved by most lenders, we would advise you make your solicitor aware of this at the beginning of the transaction so this can be reported to your lender as soon as the mortgage offer is received by your solicitor.
Draft Contract – approximately 2-10 weeks
A crucial part of the process is the draft contract drawn up by a solicitor using information from the HM Land Registry, the surveys, the searches, the seller, and their conveyancer. Any problems or questions about the property can be resolved and answered during this time. As a result, the timescale can vary wildly depending on the severity of the issues found and how quickly the otherside’s conveyancer responds to the queries. Sometimes, conveyancers will need to rely on third parties for answers to queries raised by the buyer’s solicitor, for example, if you are buying a leasehold property it is most likely you will need a management pack. These can sometimes take weeks to be received which can delay your transaction.
At this stage, it is important you speak to your conveyancer about any queries or issues you wish to raise in relation to the property, for example, if you want further clarity on fittings and contents which will be left by the sellers on completion or, if you a buying a leasehold property, if you can keep pets at the property under the terms of your Lease.
Exchange to completion – approximately 1-2 Weeks
In order to exchange contracts and complete the conveyancing process, all previous steps must have happened, and all of the financial and legal requirements must be in place. Once the contracts are signed, both parties can agree on a completion date. Usually, this takes a week; however, sellers in the chain can request an extended interim period to fit in with their purchase if necessary. Regardless, once exchange has taken place and a fixed completion date has been set, neither party can withdraw from the contract at this stage without incurring significant financial and legal repercussions.
Before exchange takes place, if you are buying with a mortgage, the buyer’s solicitor can will share the completion date for the purchase with the lender and will ensure funds will be released by the lender in readiness for completion on the agreed.
Once you conveyancer has the confirmation from your lender, and all other legal components for exchange, your conveyancer will call you on the day of exchange to obtain your authority to exchange contracts on your behalf and to fix the completion date for whichever day has been agreed by all parties in the transaction.
Once the exchange has taken place, all parties are legally bound by the contract and will need to ensure completion takes place on the agreed date otherwise they will suffer significant financial and legal repercussions.
On the agreed day of completion, your conveyancer will deal with the transfer of funds and then parties will exchange keys, with the seller expected to have left the property by midday, ready for the buyer to access the property in the afternoon.
Your conveyancer will complete the transaction by paying any Stamp Duty Land Tax applicable and then registering the property in your name with HM Land Registry; depending on how busy they are, it can take up to six months or sometimes even longer depending on the type of the transaction.
Tips to avoid delays
Although you can’t mitigate or avoid all potential delays, there are steps you can take to accelerate the process and reduce the impact of any problems that arise. We recommend that parties:
- Hire a conveyancing solicitor as soon as possible to allow them time to carry out mandatory checks, share critical forms and documents and gather information. Establish a direct line of communication with their solicitor to ensure that relevant information is shared quickly.
- Double-check the accuracy of the information in all applications and rectify any errors as soon as possible.
- Sellers should complete all property forms and locate relevant documents in relation to the property i.e. planning documentation for any building works or electrical/gas safety certificates.
- Buyers should have a Decision in Principle in place from the mortgage lender and confirm that their solicitor is part of the mortgage lender’s panel. If the solicitor is not, you may need to look at instructing a new solicitor.
- Buyers should apply for searches as soon as possible, as lead times from local authorities can be significant.
- If the buyers want a survey they should book this as soon as possible to ensure any issues raised from this can be rectified prior to completion.
How we can help
At Waldrons Solicitors, we understand the excitement of buying a house, whether it is your first home or your third. As a result, our mission is to ensure the conveyancing process is hassle-free with expert guidance from our property team. We work hard to secure your dream home on your behalf, making sure to give you regular updates and to proceed as quickly as possible throughout the process. See, our conveyancers aren’t generalists, they are specialists in their field, and with a direct line to their expertise, they’ll support you every step of the way. However, if the worst should happen, we operate with a no-sale, no-fee guarantee so that you won’t pay a penny in legal fees if your sale falls through. Contact us using the form below to get your residential conveyancing process started with us today.
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Last reviewed on 11/07/23 by Abigail Gray who is an Associate Solicitor