A Dickensian legal process

Propertymark's monthly Housing Insight Report has identified a significant deterioration in the number of transactions progressing from offer acceptance to exchange of contracts within 12 weeks. In the first of our research spotlight series, this report looks into the reasons why the time taken to exchange contracts is elongating.

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The exchange of contracts represents a critical juncture in the house buying and selling process as it marks the point at which the sale and purchase both become legally binding. Delays in reaching the point of exchange are problematic as they increase the stress associated with the homebuying and selling process, slow the housing market, and risk increasing the number of failed transactions.

How long does it take to exchange contracts?

In March 2016, 78 per cent of transactions progressed from offer acceptance to exchange of contracts within 12 weeks, whereas in March 2024, the figure was just 29 per cent. This represents a significant deterioration.

From the data gathered across the UK, it is clear there has been a growth in the number of exchanges taking 13–16 weeks and 17+ weeks, at the expense of those taking 5–8 weeks and 9–12 weeks. The number of exchanges taking 1–4 weeks is generally low and has been relatively stable throughout the last decade.

Increasing time taken to reach exchange

The impact of the increasing time taken to reach exchange is widely felt by buyers, sellers, and the many service providers that support the home buying process. Whilst there is an urgent need to address this problem, it has been a decade in the making, and is extremely complex.

The solution will necessitate change in the realms of people, processes, and systems across multiple domains, each with differing views, resources, and appetites for change. However, the first tentative step, recognising that the problem exists, has been taken by this report.

Further reading

Future steps are discussed in Propertymark’s recent publication: ‘The future of home buying and selling’ which also sets out the myriad of challenges facing home movers.

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08 Apr 2024
The future of home buying and selling

Propertymark’s position paper comes off the back of the renewed efforts to improve the home buying and selling process. In this paper, we have presented the agents’ perspective to ensure that future regulations reflect the evidence our members are seeing on the ground and that future actions respond to the largest challenges affecting the process.

Download the full report