When buying or selling your home there are several critical stages that need to be understood if you are to better control the process, manage expectations and reduce stress.

Many ‘newbies’ assume that once an offer has been accepted buy a seller, or has been made by the purchaser, the deal is ‘done’. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, this is just the start of the transaction process. Of course, it is reasonable to stick to the deal that has been agreed. The trouble is that (i) all the terms of the deal haven’t been agreed at this stage and (ii) circumstances can change.

It is, therefore, sensible to plan making some assumptions, such as when are formal mortgage offers likely to be confirmed? When will searches be returned to the purchaser’s solicitor? When does the seller expect to move out? Once a desirable timeframe has been agreed between the parties, try to identify any factors that might change it, such as a long upward chain (where one sale falling through might delay the seller being able to move out).

Exchange of Contacts

Having set a desirable timeframe this should leave you with a preferred date for ‘exchange’. This refers to the exchange of legally binding written contracts. In Scotland the law varies to the Laws of England and Wales.

The contracts are usually fairly standard and quite short. They record the terms of the sale, such as price, date of completion, refer to the title registered with the Land Registry and set out remedies for breach of contract, etc.

In England and Wales once signed contracts have been ‘exchanged’ both parties are legally obliged to undertake what has been agreed. Failure to do so (e.g. fail to pay the purchase price to the seller on the specified date / or failure to sell and yield up the property to the buyer on that date) will result in exposure for various legal remedies which might involve substantial ‘damages’ being payable or even ‘specific performance’, meaning the courts might make you do what you said you would. It is usual for a deposit of 5 - 10% be paid over to the seller’s solicitor by your solicitor upon exchange of contracts. Therefore, if your solicitor isn’t ‘in funds’ (i.e. you haven’t paid him the necessary monies) he won’t exchange contracts.

It is usual to insure your new property from exchange, so check with your solicitor on this too.

Completion

Completion Day’ is a date set for the sale to actually take place. It’s usual for this to be a Friday, but not necessarily. On this day both parties actually do what they are required to do under the terms of the contract they have agreed and exchanged between their lawyers.

The day of Completion is usually the day you get the keys and you move in, although you might choose to delay the move itself if you are undertaking decoration or improvement works. If you are selling you will, unless the contract states otherwise, be required to move out and hand over the keys. This is called ‘giving up possession’ and as most contracts offer vacant possession upon completion, you’ll need to move out on or before the date of completion.

If you do not abide by the terms of your contract, and this will likely include completing on time, you may be responsible for costs incurred by the other party. You may even lose your deposit!

Some solicitors will try to arrange for exchange and completion to take place on the same day. The inherent problem with this is that the deal is at risk right up until completion day. This is likely to increase the chance of you incurring costs on a failed sale (such as mortgage arrangement fees, solicitor’s costs, etc). It’s also difficult to arrange a reliable completion date, making booking removals firms very difficult.

It’s therefore probably best to have a 2 - 4 week gap between exchange and completion to allow you time to plan. Speak to your solicitor about this.

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