• 4 min read

How long does a house move really take?

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We always aim to meet your target exchange and completion dates and ask you to make us aware of your requirements at the beginning of your sale or purchase.

Often, we are told by a client or an estate agent that the sale will be straightforward.  In reality, that can mean the opposite.

A sale could take just a matter of hours to complete if the title deeds are clear, the buyer is cash, and no searches or surveys are required AND both seller and buyer have chosen a skilled property lawyer. But that is terribly rare.

There are many factors which influence timings in a house move, and the more factors involved, the longer the process will take.

If you only have a sale, and your buyer has no property to sell, then the pace of the sale can be set by you and your buyer. We advise you to consider your estate agent as your project manager to keep the sale on track and ensure that your desired completion date can be met. The estate agent can also keep you updated with the buyer’s circumstances and ability to move quickly.

Typical delays:


If your buyer has a property to sell to fund their purchase of yours, or if you are both selling and buying, then the waiting time will increase because of the involvement of more people, more lawyers and third-party service providers.  You should also consider that other parties in your chain might not have the same preferences as (or ability to meet) your proposed timescales.

A typical timeframe to reach completion, assuming the chain comprises of 2 to 3 parties, would be 8-12 weeks.

You should consider that any buyer or seller within a chain can withdraw for any reason (for example, a change of mind, cold feet, a bad survey, inability to obtain a mortgage, redundancy, or other personal circumstances) right to the point that contracts should exchange. This event would cause the chain to collapse, unless a buyer or seller can  continue despite the withdrawing party.

Mortgage Lenders

Where once, mortgage offers were issued within a week or two of valuation, the process is now taking far longer, due to more restrictive lending criteria and mortgage lenders’ greater aversion to risk.

Consequently, a property purchase can move at a quicker pace if a buyer applies for a mortgage as early as possible.  Estate agents often ask buyers to work with their preferred lender to obtain a ‘mortgage in principle’ when making any offer on a property.  

Lender Panels

When a buyer needs a mortgage, the mortgage lender will need their own lawyer to ensure that the mortgage advance is correctly secured against the borrower’s property.

Usually, the mortgage lender will appoint the same property lawyer as the borrower.  This avoids duplication of the legal work undertaken and a doubling of legal fees.

However, some law firms are not deemed acceptable to some lenders (e.g. if they are too small in size).  Other lenders may choose to instruct a small panel of lawyers to undertake work on their behalf, and if the borrower’s preferred conveyancer is not one of them the end result will likely be duplication of the legal work and double legal expenses, often slowing down the transaction by weeks.

All too often, the chain and even the buyer discovers late into the transaction that their chosen law firm is not on the mortgage lender’s panel.  It is always worth checking that your chosen conveyancer can act for your mortgage lender.

Borrowers will otherwise be left with three options:

1. Wait,

2. Change solicitor, or

3. Change mortgage lender.

The Conveyancers

The quality between property lawyers, or conveyancers, does range dramatically. An overly cheap price is always a warning.

Inexperienced or poorly trained conveyancers can cause delay, on grounds such as:

  • Waiting for money on account before commencing any work
  • Waiting for all searches to arrive before communicating with the selling lawyers on the legal documents
  • Taking longer than necessary to issue legal papers and reply to enquiries
  • Not fully understanding the legal title or making mistakes, which the next property lawyer must later correct which will slow down the resale

But there are many good conveyancers to be found. Always consider a regulated firm of solicitors, one who has the Law Society accreditations from both Lexcel  and CQS (Conveyancing Quality Scheme). Always ask about the actual conveyancer who will handle the legal work. What experience and qualifications do they have?  

Estate Agents

Estate agents too range in quality. There has been a recent influx of cheap online agents, and it can be difficult to make the right decision in who to choose. 

You will want your estate agent to secure the best sale price right at the start, but also to have them take an interest in keeping the deal together after an offer has been accepted, and help project manage reaching the projected completion date through the chain.

Your estate agent can help a transaction get off to a good start by:

  • Ensuring that they understand the position of both the seller and the buyer. If the buyer is in rented accommodation, the buyer’s required notice period must be communicated throughout the chain to help manage expectations regarding exchange and completion dates.
  • Verifying the accuracy of a buyer’s financial position (e.g. ability to secure a mortgage or draw down necessary investments)
  • Assisting lawyers in obtaining vital information and communicating updates throughout the chain.

Realistic expectations

Knowing the above factors can help cement more realistic expectations about how quickly you can move home. Plan on 8-12 weeks from when the buyer’s lawyer is sent the contract package (a complete one, not piecemeal) and you may be pleasantly surprised. If you are looking for conveyancing services in the South, our expert residential property solicitors based in Salisbury, Southampton, Poole, Bournemouth and Winchester are on hand to provide you with the legal help and guidance you need. Don’t hesitate to contact Partner and Property Solicitor Lucy Spollin on 01202 339006 or contact us here.

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