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How long does it take to exchange contracts?

Jul 18, 2023
While exchanging contracts is an exciting moment and one of the biggest milestones when buying a new home, the full process can be a little confusing, and can bring up quite a few questions.

For instance, how much time is there between exchange and completion? What can delay things? When do you exchange contracts on a new build, and is the process any different?

In this article, we’ll show how the process works – from how long it takes to exchange contracts, to what happens on exchange day itself – answering the questions above on the way.

If you’re just starting to look for your new home, click below for our home buying guide and to start your journey with David Wilson Homes.

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What do I need to do before exchanging contracts?

In technical terms, ‘exchanging contracts’ refers to the process where the buyer and the seller sign identical contracts agreeing the sale of the property, making the sale legally binding.


When you exchange contracts on your new house, you’re entering into a legal agreement with an obligation to buy, so it’s crucial to make sure nothing can go wrong. You should only exchange once you’ve done the following:

  1. Agreed an offer, including for fixtures and fittings
  2. Conducted the mortgage valuation and all necessary surveys
  3. Received a formal mortgage offer in writing
  4. Arranged funding for your deposit
  5. Conducted relevant searches through your solicitor
  6. Organised buildings insurance
  7. Settled on a date of completion for the sale
  8. Read and understood the contract
  9. Provided proof of funds or deposit to your solicitor
  10. Signed the following documents:
  • Agreement or Contract
  • Transfer or lease
  • Mortgage deeds

There’s quite a lot of paperwork involved in this process, so to keep things moving smoothly, here’s our guide to essential paperwork for moving house to help you along.

When do you exchange contracts?

You might wonder how long after making an offer do you exchange contracts, or even what time of day does the exchange of contracts happen.


While it’s entirely dependent on the size of the chain, you can expect to exchange between seven to 28 days before your completion date. Usually, this happens around midday on a weekday. On rare occasions, you may exchange contracts on a house and complete on the same day.


You may have a longer wait between exchanging and completing if somebody in the chain hasn’t found a buyer yet. Remember, most mortgage offers are only valid for up to six months – so the wait for a buyer can’t be longer than that.


During the final exchange of contracts, both solicitors will read out the contracts in a recorded conversation. They’ll confirm that the contracts are the same and will post copies to each other. Once these have been exchanged, this forms a legal agreement, and you are legally bound to buy the property.


You’ll still need to stay in close contact with your solicitor to complete the following steps:

  1. Communicate with the freeholder (if it’s a leasehold property) to tell them you’re the new owner.
  2. Confirm that your solicitor has registered the transfer of ownership with the land registry.
  3. If you’ve arranged to purchase a share of a freehold, the solicitor will arrange for a new share certificate to be issued



What might hold up the exchange of contracts?

There are several factors that might delay how quickly you can exchange contracts. 

These include:

1. Waiting to receive a mortgage offer

You may have already received a mortgage in principle (MIP) or agreement in principle (AIP), allowing you to make the purchase offer, but you can only exchange contracts after you have a formal mortgage offer from a provider. If there are any problems with your application, it may take longer before you exchange contracts. Whether you’re a first-time or existing buyer, we have a range of offers to help you make your next move.

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2. A difference in valuations

Your mortgage provider will conduct their own valuation of the property you want to buy. If this is lower than the price you’ve agreed to pay, they may only lend if you buy at the lower price. Unforeseen issues like this can lengthen the time it takes to exchange contracts.


3. Delays in conducting searches

When you’ve agreed to buy a property, your solicitor will carry out searches like Local Authority, Environmental, Water Authority, Chanel Repair and Location-specific. Local Authority searches can take up to six weeks and, if any searches reveal unexpected results that could affect the purchase, this could potentially delay the exchange of contracts.


4. The size of the chain

This can be the biggest delay.

Even if you’re a first-time buyer and happy to move as soon as possible, the exchange of contracts could be delayed until the seller has found their next property. Once they’ve done this, a completion date will be set, which has to suit people further up the chain too.

You won’t exchange until a completion date has been agreed, so the process can become drawn out.

How are contracts exchanged?

The exchange is handled by solicitors or conveyancers representing the buyer and seller. Your solicitor will tell you when they are exchanging contracts.


This process involves both solicitors reading the contracts in unison over the phone to check they’re the same, then immediately posting them to each other. Once your solicitor has exchanged contracts, you’re in a legally binding contract to buy the property. In this call, the completion date is also finalised.


There could still be delays despite agreeing a completion date, especially if you’re in a chain. Completing can only happen once everyone in the chain is set to go ahead – if anyone pulls out at the last minute, this will have a knock-on effect on everybody’s timings.

Before your completion date, it’s important to know how much Stamp Duty you may need to pay.

Find out more about Stamp Duty >



Can I decide to not buy the property after exchanging?

Once you have exchanged contracts, you are legally obliged to complete the purchase. So, if you want to withdraw your offer on a property, you need to do this before you exchange.


If you decide that you don’t want to proceed with the purchase after exchanging, you will be breaching the terms of the contract. This means you will probably face major penalties, including losing your deposit.


You can withdraw your offer on a property at any time before you exchange. Once you have exchanged contracts, you are legally obligated to complete the purchase.


If you decide that you don’t want to proceed with the purchase after exchanging, you will be breaching the terms of the contract. This means you will probably face major penalties, including losing your deposit.



What should I do once the contract exchange happens?

In the time between exchange and completion, there are several things it’s recommended that you do. These will make the move smoother, and the first few days in your new home less stressful:


  • Insure your new property as soon as you’ve exchanged
  • Send a copy of the title deeds to your mortgage lender
  • Register the transfer of ownership with the Land Registry
  • Contact your banks and utility companies to inform them of your purchase

Waiting for the contracts to be exchanged for your new home can feel frustrating at times, but it’s always vital to make sure that everything is in place before you legally agree to buy any property.

Buying a brand-new home often means that there’s only a chain if you’re selling your current home, so you could make your move sooner with us.

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Popular questions about exchanging contracts

We’ve collated some of the most popular questions people have asked around the exchange of contracts. 


1. When do you exchange contracts?

As mentioned in the above section titled ‘When do you exchange contracts’, while it’s entirely dependent on the size of the chain, you can expect to exchange between seven to 28 days before your completion date.


2. Will my solicitor tell me when we exchange contracts?

Your solicitor should inform you (the client) when the exchange of contracts is made – and they also record the conversation that they have with the other party’s solicitor. Check out our section above ‘When do you exchange contracts’ for more information.


3. How long after exchange of contracts is completion?

This will be determined by the buyer and seller, but you’ll typically have to wait one week. However, it may be longer depending on other parties within the property chain.


4. Can you exchange contracts without a completion date?

No, you can’t. This is often requested by people who want to move quickly. But it isn’t possible as the completion date must be written into contracts before they can be exchanged. Click here to read more on this.


5. How long after searches are contracts exchanged?

You’ll usually need to wait between 1 and 3 weeks. In most cases, things will move forward without any issues; but, if you’d like to read more about this, click here.



Buying a brand-new home often means that there’s only a chain if you’re selling your current home. And if you’re looking to sell your current home quickly and easily, we have a range of offers that could help.

Are you ready to start your search for a brand-new, thoughtfully designed home?