This is the day which the legal ownership of the property transfers from the seller to the buyer. It is also the day on which the seller will receive the purchase price and the buyer will receive the keys.
Exchange of Contracts
Once contracts have been exchanged the contract between the seller and the buyer, as well as the agreed completion date, becomes legally binding. If either party withdraws from the transaction after this point they are likely to suffer significant financial penalties.
The process of exchanging contracts involves a series of telephone conversations between the solicitors representing the buyer and seller.
Most properties, in particular houses, are freehold. It means that ownership includes the ground on which the property is built.
Some properties, primarily flats, are leasehold. It means that the ownership does not include the ground on which the property is built. This is usually owned by a third party who will collect a regular ground rent/service charge from the flat owner and be responsible for organising the maintenance of the building.
This is the paperwork sent by a mortgage company to the buyer’s solicitor, detailing their offer of finance and any conditions they want to be satisfied before they will release the funds.
Information about the property is stored by a number of different authorities. Searches need to be carried out on behalf of the buyer, to ensure that the property is not affected by any problems which would them (or their mortgage company) reconsider proceeding. The time it takes to obtain the search results depends on the organisations involved but generally they do not take longer than around ten days.
The following searches are always carried out:
Local Authority Search
This is a search of the information held about the property at the local authority. It reveals matters such as:
- The existence (or non-existence) of any planning permissions/building regulation approvals which were obtained to authorise the construction of the property and any alterations to it
- Whether planning permission has ever been refused for certain activities at the property
- Whether the local authority are responsible for the access road to the property or whether this is privately owned (meaning you may be responsible for maintaining it)
- Whether any trees at the property are affected by a Tree Preservation Order so that you cannot remove or even prune these without consent
- Whether the property is a listed building or located within a conservation area, meaning that you cannot carry out certain alterations without consent
- Whether the property has ever been the subject of any enforcement proceedings issued by the local authority and if so, whether or not these are continuing
- Whether or not the property is the subject of a compulsory purchase order
A local authority search will only provide information about the property that is being purchased and will not reveal if a neighbour has applied for planning permission to alter their property. If a buyer is interested in finding out if a neighbouring property owner has applied planning permission to alter their house, then they can obtain a further (optional) search, for an additional fee.
Water and Drainage Search
This is a search of the information held about the property at the water board. Amongst other things, it reveals details such as:
- Whether the property is connected to the mains drainage system and the water board are responsible for repairing and maintaining the drains and sewers
- Whether the property is connected to the mains water supply
- Whether or not any public sewers are located within the boundary of the property, which may hinder any plans to extend it in the future
- Whether or not there is a water meter at the property
An environmental search will detail matters in the vicinity of the property such as:
- Past and present contaminating and polluting processes
- Coal mining activity
- Waste treatment sites
- Nearby toxic or explosive substances
- Areas of ground that may have been filled in the past, e.g. landfills
- The probability of radon gas
- The risk of subsidence and flooding
Land Registry Search
This search is carried out immediately before completion to protect the buyer (and their mortgage company, if appropriate) from any adverse entries being entered on the title deeds before their ownership in registered at the Land Registry.
Where the purchase is made with the aid of a mortgage, the mortgage company will require evidence that the buyer is not bankrupt. Again, this search is carried out immediately before completion.
Depending on the location of the property, it may be necessary for other searches to be carried out, e.g. a coal mining search.
A buyer may also be interested in requesting additional searches, e.g. to identify the extent to which the property may be subject to flooding or, as mentioned above, to find if any neighbouring property owners have obtained planning permission to alter their property.
Once exchange of contracts has taken place, the buyer must buy the property in the condition it is in. Therefore, all buyers should consider the desirability of a survey.
This applies equally to any central heating system at the property. The onus is on the buyer to have the heating system checked before exchange of contracts so that any potential problems can be raised with the seller beforehand.
There are different types of survey available:
Please note that a mortgage valuation is not a survey. It is carried out by the lender to confirm that the property is worth at least the amount of money they are lending. A mortgage valuation will not detail any problems or repairs required to the property and a buyer should not rely on this alone when deciding whether or not to proceed with the purchase.
Home condition survey
This is appropriate for properties of standard construction. It tells the buyer about the condition of the property, whether there are potential problems they should investigate further and what the rebuild cost of the property is for insurance purposes. It does not include a valuation.
This is also appropriate for properties of a standard construction but is not an absolute guarantee of the state and condition of the property. It will detail any significant defects and urgent repairs. It will also identify which areas the surveyor thinks need further investigation and state if any legal matters need to be brought to the attention of the buyer’s solicitor. It will also include an independent market valuation of the property.
This used to be called a ‘structural survey’. It is particularly appropriate for older properties or those which are unusual, perhaps because they are listed, have a thatched roof or are of non-standard construction. A building survey is the most detailed report available. It will identify defects in the property and make recommendations as to what further investigations or repairs are required.