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A traffic light as an example of what can hold up exchange of contracts

What can hold up exchange of contracts on a house?

(Last Updated: 13/02/2024)
4 min read

Why is there a delay in exchanging contracts?

The conveyancing process can take months to get from getting an offer accepted to the point of exchange. The answer to why there is a delay in exchanging contracts can vary, but there is always a reason and a solution.

We cover what can hold up exchange of contracts and what you can do, including:

  • Waiting on replies to enquiries.
  • Seller is extending the lease.
  • Delays with a mortgage offer.
  • Problem with your survey.
  • Issues within the conveyancing searches.
  • Seller delaying exchange of contracts.
  • Solicitor drafting the report on title.
  • Original signed documents.

What can hold up exchange of contracts?

  • 1

    Waiting on replies to enquiries

This is the most common hold-up for the exchange of contracts. A legal enquiry is a question the buyer's solicitor has sent to the seller that hasn't been answered. It can take weeks for a technical enquiry to be answered, especially if the answer comes from a third party. Here are some of the most common legal enquiries and how to answer them >>.

To answer the question, the seller's solicitor must obtain information from their client, local authority, Land Registry, freeholder/managing agent and even the solicitor who acted for the seller when they bought the property. Where information can't be found, the buyer needs to decide whether they progress without it, or where they have a mortgage, obtain mortgage lender consent to not having the answer and/or obtain indemnity insurance to protect the lender's mortgage.

  • 2

    Seller is extending the lease

A seller with a short lease can add months onto when an exchange can take place. If you have an absent freeholder, this can be delayed further because you'll need to obtain a vesting order.

To speed up the process, determine if the seller has agreed on a premium with the freeholder and if it is a formal or informal lease extension. Read more - How do you buy a property with a short lease?

  • 3

    Delays with a mortgage offer

A buyer's mortgage offer can be delayed for many reasons, but primarily if the bank undervalued the property or if the buyer has affordability issues. If the buyer has used a mortgage broker, they can guide the buyer on how best to overcome the issue.

  • 4

    Problem with your survey

An issue in the buyer's Home Survey can hold up exchange of contracts until further investigations or repairs are undertaken. Here is a list of issues and how best to handle them:

Some of the above are potential deal breakers until they get fixed, so holding off exchange is in the buyer's best interest.

  • 5

    Issues within the conveyancing searches

The conveyancing searches can cause delays, first with the local council providing the results and with the results found within them. Here are some issues that can delay exchanging contracts:

Most issues found within the searches can be addressed, but they will delay the exchange.

Local Authority Search Turnaround Times

  • 6

    Seller delaying exchange of contracts

A seller who was going to break a chain can delay an exchange if, during the process, they find a property to buy. This can add on weeks before the onward purchase is in a position to exchange contracts. Read more - What to do if you have a property chain

  • 7

    Solicitor drafting the report on title

Once all the legal enquiries are satisfied, the buyer's solicitor drafts a report on the title for the buyer to inform them of the property they are buying. This includes all of the documents for signing. The title report is a large document, so it can take a few days to draft as a solicitor drafts them in order of priority.

The delay at this part can be frustrating for the buyer as the report is all they need before they can get to the exchange of contracts.

  • 8

    Original signed documents

The solicitor needs signed original documents before exchanging contracts. You can hold up the exchange of contracts when you return documents to your solicitor by first or second-class post. You should return them special delivery to guarantee the documents arrive the next working day.

Frequently Asked Questions
Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Written by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands-on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.
Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
Reviewed by:

Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.

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