• 4 min read

How long does a house move really take?

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We always target a maximum of 4 weeks to exchange contracts, and we tell everyone (the other lawyer, our client sand the estate agents). The point in doing so is to focus people on achieving a prompt pace, not necessarily achieving a magic 4 weeks.

However, we always wince when a client says to us “it should be a straightforward sale”. That usually means the opposite

True, a sale could take just a matter of hours to complete IF…the title deeds are straightforward, the buyer is cash, and they choose to have no searches/survey AND both seller and buyer have a dynamic conveyancer.

But that is terribly rare.

Unfortunately. Too many factors can influence timing in a house move, and the more factors, the longer the process.

A single sale – one buyer, one seller

If you only have a sale, and your buyer has no sale of their own (i.e they are in rented, or buying to let), then it can be as fast as you let your buyer take. So use your estate agent to keep the deal in place/pressure on them, as your estate agent is your project manager (that is why their fee is what it is).

This is the ideal scenario for a fast sale, but all too often sellers get excited about ‘I have a buyer’ overlooking the buyer’s own circumstances and factors such as……

Typical delays:


If your buyer has their own property to sell to fund their purchase of yours, or you are both selling and buying then unfortunately the waiting time will be extended, as there are more lawyers, more people and more personal preferences as to how fast everyone wants/plans to progress things.

Assuming a 2 to 3 person chain then a typical timeframe would be 8-12 weeks.

However, with a chain of people, any buyer or seller along it can withdraw for any reason whatsoever (e.g change of mind, cold feet, bad survey, cannot obtain a mortgage, redundancy etc.) right up until the chain exchange contracts. This then causes the whole chain to collapse, unless a buyer or seller can do without the bad link and still continue.

Mortgage companies

Where once, mortgage offers were issued within a matter of weeks, the process is now taking far longer, due to more restrictive lending criteria following both the 2007 financial crisis and bank’s greater aversion to risk.

Consequently, the earlier a buyer applies for a mortgage – which is why estate agents like to see buyers come with a ‘mortgage agreed in principle’ when making any offer on a property – the quicker a property sale could be.

Lender Panels

When a buyer needs a mortgage, the mortgage lender will need their own lawyer to make sure their loaned money is correctly secured against the borrower’s property.

Usually, the mortgage lender will appoint the same conveyancer as the borrower, as it makes sense, as that lawyer has already examined the legal papers, and carried out searches and is best placed to act. It therefore avoids duplication of the same legal work and a doubling of solicitor fees.

However, some law firms are not deemed acceptable (e.g. if they are too small in size), and some mortgage lenders have decided to have a small panel of lawyers who they are only willing to instruct (e.g often very large volume style outfits who can churn through the work), and if the borrower’s preferred conveyancer is not one of them, the end result is, as mentioned, duplication and double legal expense, often slowing down the transaction by additional weeks.

All too often, the chain and even the buyer themselves only discovers late into the transaction that their chosen law firm is not on the mortgage company’s panel – so always make sure that your conveyancer is able to act for your mortgage company.

Borrowers will otherwise be left with three options; wait, change solicitors or change mortgage companies.

The Conveyancers

The quality between conveyancing firms does range dramatically. A cheap price is always a warning, as is an expensive one.

Conveyancers are frequently the cause for delays, on such grounds as:

Waiting for money on account before doing any work

Waiting for old boiler or electricity service records

Waiting for all searches to arrive before communicating with the selling lawyers on the papers

Taking two weeks to send out legal papers and two weeks to reply to a letter of enquiry

Not proactive, but reactionary

Poorly trained

Lack of communication

Mistakes, which the next conveyancer has to correct which slows down the resale

But there are many good conveyancers to be found. Always consider an actual solicitor firm, one who has the Law Society accreditations from both Lexcel  and CQS (Conveyancing Quality Scheme) – you can check here –  and one who does not shout their main selling point as cheap, but one of quality, and, always ask about the actual conveyancer who will handle the legal work. What experience do they have, do they even have a law degree?

Estate Agents

Again, as with conveyancers they too, range in quality. Now with the influx of cheap online agents, it is hard to know who to choose. But the lower the price – as with any service provider – the more of a warning sign.

With estate agents, you will want to incentivize them 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, rather than sitting back and watching the lawyers, as opposed to getting involved and helping them and chasing the buyer at weekly intervals to keep their hard worked deal together.

Criticisms, and therefore a contribution to a slower deal can arise on such grounds as:

  • Not realising the buyer is in rented accommodation needing to give 8 weeks notice to their landlord after exchange takes place
  • Not verifying the accuracy of a buyer’s financial position (e.g ability to secure a mortgage)
  • Not chasing the buyer to keep them focused
  • Never helping the lawyers

Realistic expectations

Forewarned is forearmed; though little compensation when all that a buyer and seller wants in a home move is that exchange of contracts.

However, knowing the above factors can help cement more realistic expectations about how quickly you can move home. Plan on 8-10 weeks from when the buyers 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 Conveyancing Solicitor Tim Higham, on 01722 426985.

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