Written by property expert Kate Faulkner
Once an offer has been made and accepted, you'll want exchange (the legal process which transfers ownership of the property to you) to happen as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, getting to exchange can be a process of one step forward and two steps back, and even though you are likely to be given a date for exchange, it’s worth knowing in advance that the date isn't set in stone.
To help you track how your sale is going, here are the 10 key steps that need to happen in order for contracts to be exchanged:
1 - Searches
When you are buying a property, it’s important to have checks carried out on the property which are generally referred to as searches.
These are checks to uncover something about the property which would affect your purchase. There are many different types of searches, from Local Authority Searches, Water and Property, to Environmental.
Find out more about conveyancing searches.
Ideally ask your legal company to carry out searches as soon as you instruct them. Some may suggest you wait until finance is approved or after a survey, as this could save you a few hundred pounds if they cause problems. However, searches, especially from the Local Authority, can take weeks, even months to return and anything which makes the process take longer can increase the likelihood of it falling through.
2 - Property fixtures and fittings form
This is a form filled out by the seller of the property detailing all the fixtures and fittings included in the home. It’s important to go through it carefully as it will help you understand exactly what you are buying with the property.
For example, it will detail what appliances – if any – are being left in the kitchen. Of the appliances that are being left, are there some you don’t want and would like the seller to get rid of? Will the shed, loft and garage be cleared?
Your seller’s legal company will hopefully be able to send this form to you fairly quickly, as some sellers get it filled in as they are marketing the property.
To keep the property purchase moving, it’s important to read and respond to this (and anything your legal company sends you) as quickly as possible and send back by return - ideally by recorded delivery.
3 - Property information form
Alongside the property fixture and fittings form is the Property Information Form (TA6). This is more about the utilities, which boundaries you are responsible for and where the stopcock is. As with the fixtures and fittings form, it’s essential to go through this carefully. This will again be filled out by the seller and sent to you by your legal company.
4 - Independent survey
The mortgage company is likely to organise a mortgage valuation of the property but it’s important to be aware that this is for them to decide what mortgage to offer you and does not protect you, as the buyer, in any way.
Therefore, you should look to secure your own independent building survey, which will advise you on what work is required on the property now and even into the future, for example how long until a flat roof might need re-doing.
There are 3 kinds of building surveys, levels 1-3, which are all suitable for different kinds of properties. Find out which kind of survey you'll need.
5 - Mortgage offer
Once the lender has secured a mortgage valuation on the property and done the checks they need to regarding your affordability and the risk of lending, they will send an official offer which will include terms and conditions that your legal company will explain to you.
6 - Buyers questionnaire
At some stage through the buying process your legal company will send you a list of buyer’s questions. This will be based on questions they want asked, but it’s also your chance to ask as many questions as you would like of the seller. Classic questions would be about maintenance, any gas or electrical safety checks and further questions based on the information the legal company has already received.
You may want to know though what day you can move, or what time will the seller be out of the property on move day. If there is no parking, you may have questions about where they usually park.
Buyer’s questions (and the answers) can run into 20/30 or even more queries, so be prepared for this to take some time.
7 - Sellers answers
All the questions you and your legal firm ask will need to be answered to your satisfaction before exchange can take place. One of the things that often causes exchange to be delayed is the legal company realising all the questions they have asked haven’t been answered to their satisfaction, so it’s important to keep an eye on this and keep checking with them.
8 - Contracts signed
When you buy a property, there needs to be a ‘transfer’ of the title from the current owner to you. This requires a contract and this needs to be signed (but the legal company will often ask you not to date it).
To exchange, this contract will need to be signed and sent back to the legal company (or carried out electronically).
Find out more about exchanging contracts.
9 - Deposit in the legal company’s bank account
One of the common reasons for exchange dates being delayed is buyers not having the money ready for the deposit. It could be they have gone on holiday when it’s needed or in an account which has a 30 day notice to access.
So it’s important to check with the conveyancers exactly when they will need the deposit and when you can send it to them. If you are relying on the Help to Buy ISA or Lifetime ISA to top up your deposit, let your conveyancer know as soon as you instruct them so they can explain this to the seller and supply their conveyancers with the account details/amounts etc.
10 - Buildings insurance secured on the new home
Most mortgage lenders will not accept your application without a buildings insurance policy, so you will need to have a policy taken out before you can exchange. The sooner in the mortgage application you take it out the better. You may also want/need to take out contents insurance.
While you can use the contents and buildings insurance offered by the lender, in today’s market it’s often cheaper to organise this separately. As such, you will need to give your legal company your chosen insurance policy details for you to exchange as your mortgage company will require this to complete their offer.
These steps may not necessarily be carried out in this exact order, but they must all be completed in order to reach exchange. So, make a note as you complete each step so you know what's left to do.
Once you have exchanged, the next major step in your journey will be completion.
Find out the 10 things to do to get from exchange to completion.