5. Key stages of buying a house

On a standard residential transaction, buying a house tends to follow the timeline below. However, not every sale follows the same sequence, and can vary between purchases.

Stage one: Initial stages

  • An offer is accepted via estate agents (or privately) from the buyer for sale of the property
  • All parties instruct solicitors
  • Estate agents (or, if private, the parties themselves) send out Memorandum of Sale to all parties concerned, confirming the agreed price an details of the buyer, seller and their respective solicitors
  • Seller’s solicitor applies for a copy of the deeds from the Land Registry and sends out a set of information forms/questionnaires to be completed by the seller
  • Both solicitors write to each other to confirm their instructions

Stage two: Initial contract

  • Once the seller’s solicitors have received the copy deeds from the Land Registry and completed information forms/questionnaires from the seller, they send the contract package to the buyer’s solicitors

Stage three: Title check and enquiries

  • Buyer’s solicitors review the contract package
  • Buyer’s solicitors may request additional information about the property, the legal title or the surrounding area from the seller’s solicitors
  • Seller’s solicitor will deal with any legal enquiries they are able to answer, but may need to forward some to the seller to respond to
  • If the property is leasehold, additional information may be required from the landlord and/or management company
  • Buyer’s solicitors will review replies to their enquiries and may raise further questions with the seller’s solicitors
  • Once the buyer’s solicitors are satisfied with the replies to all their enquiries, they will arrange for the buyer to sign the contract and, at that stage, will request a deposit (if applicable) from the buyer
  • Once the buyer’s solicitors have received a copy of the buyer’s mortgage offer, the local search results, replies to all their enquiries, copies of signed contracts, and cleared funds in respect of the deposit (if any), the buyer’s solicitor is ready to exchange

Stage four: Exchange of contracts

  • The buyer’s solicitor contacts the seller’s solicitor to advise they are ready to exchange contracts and will suggest a completion date
  • The seller’s solicitor contacts the seller to check if the proposed completion date is agreed. If not, the seller’s solicitor will negotiate with the buyer’s solicitors (or via the estate agents) for a completion date acceptable to all parties
  • Once a completion date is agreed, the buyer’s solicitor and seller’s solicitor exchange contracts
  • Both parties are now legally bound to buy and sell the property for the agreed price on the agreed completion date

Stage five: The completion date

  • On the completion date, the buyer’s solicitor will send a same-day money transfer to the seller’s solicitor with the monies required to purchase the property
  • Once the money is received, the seller’s solicitor will authorise the release of keys to the buyer via either the estate agents or the seller direct
  • The seller’s solicitors will then pay off any existing mortgages secured on the property, the estate agent fees and the net proceeds of sale to the seller
  • The sale is then complete
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