From offer to exchange: why it takes so long and what you can do about it

From offer to exchange: why it takes so long and what you can do about it

Time. It’s the most precious commodity we’ve got. So why do important things drag on forever? The excruciating amount of time it takes to get from offer to exchange is a prime example. It should take 12-16 weeks but frequently takes over 20. That’s nearly 5 months between negotiating a deal and actually getting paid. Ouch.

Although the situation was made worse by the stamp duty holiday bottleneck, where the average time it took to complete a purchase rose by a month, things haven’t exactly gotten faster since. It’s a massive pain for property people everywhere, especially as homes are taking just 5 weeks (on average) to find a buyer due to today’s chronic shortage of stock.

So what’s causing these painful delays? And what can you do about it? We explore these very issues, in the hope of finding some metaphorical skates for the sector to put on, in today’s blog. 


All parties have their hearts in their mouths between offer and exchange. Buyers fear losing their dream home, sellers fear their onward home, and agents fear losing their marbles. So what’s causing the hold-ups? 

Some problems are obviously out of agents’ hands. For example, there might be holdups during the searches - local authorities can be notoriously slow - whilst surveys can throw up all sorts of problems, too. What looks like a perfectly ordinary house from the outside might have dry rot or a hidden well underneath the living room floor.  

Mortgages can also slow things down. Buyers can only exchange once their bank has formalised the lending agreement. And issues during the application process can cost valuable time as well. 

Chains are another occupational hazard. If a deal slips up somewhere along the line then more time quickly slips away. Conveyancing delays are also common, especially in more complex cases where a purchase is part of a divorce or probate settlement.

Finally, leasehold properties often tie conveyancers up in knots. And even freehold properties need legal professionals to prepare paperwork, answer queries, draft contracts, and go over everything with a fine-tooth comb. It’s tough. No wonder conveyancers, especially in our increasingly litigious culture, take their time.


Fortunately, whilst agents will be innocent bystanders in many of the scenarios above, there are certain things you can do to grease the offer to exchange wheels. For example, guiding buyers, advising sellers, being proactive, and keeping channels of communication between the various parties open can reduce little delays in a big way.

When it comes to sellers, advise them to prepare their property information form and gather all their certificates straight away. Also encourage them to answer enquiries quick smart and always be 100% clear.

Buyers, on the other hand, should always get a mortgage agreed in principle before they make an offer. It’s then paramount for them to arrange a survey straight away if this offer is accepted. Want another top tip? Remind them to make their deposit funds accessible in advance so the exchange isn’t delayed later on.

Overall, a lot of delays are caused by inertia or a lack of organisation; so don’t be afraid to give your customers the odd poke during the conveyancing process. And make sure any breakdowns in communication don’t occur in the middle - i.e. in your office. Now that would be embarrassing. 

A digital future

Although cheap online conveyancers don’t do much to speed things up - customers get what they pay for - digital solutions can really speed up the time between offer and exchange. This is because buyers can fill in forms online, scan and upload key documents 24/7, and even sign documents digitally, too. That means fewer trips into town and less time waiting for the postman. 

Online mortgage services can also help: they let buyers compare deals online and get the ball rolling without waiting for an appointment. Meanwhile, online conveyancers offer online case tracking that lets buyers keep an eye on progress. 

What the sector really needs, however, are lots of centralised platforms where all parties - buyers, sellers, conveyancers, mortgage providers, and surveyors - can come together and communicate transparently in one place. A cloud-based collaboration platform, which works a bit like project management software for businesses, would be fantastic news.

Just think about the possibilities here: greater visibility, easier communication, real-time progress updates, not to mention notifications when specific actions are required, would speed up the time from offer to exchange tremendously. Purchases would go from a snail’s pace to a sprint race before you can say “hey presto”.

From offer to exchange - another great idea

Going from ‘sold subject to contract’ to signed and sealed has blighted the sector for far too long. However, although automation will surely expedite moves in the future, we believe broader reforms are necessary to solve this problem once and for all. Here’s what Just Move In ambassador Mark Hayward suggests: 

“I’d like to see a wholesale review of the legal process so it becomes much simpler. Properties should not only be ‘market ready’ when they reach the online portals; they should also be ‘sale ready’ with all paperwork already completed by the seller, and all preliminary work done by the conveyancers, too.”

This approach would certainly put turbo boosters on the process. If it works for auction properties then why not make ‘sales packs’ compulsory for every house on the market? They say that time is money. So isn’t it high time for action? 

If you’re moving home soon and want to hand over your arduous home move admin, claim your free Home Setup Service by going here:

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