man wearing a suit sitting in a table showing a mortgage contract and where the signer must signExchange of contracts is the point where a house sale is legally bound to go through. While it is still possible for the sale to fall through after this point, the party that pulls out can be sued to recover costs and any deposit paid will be lost if it is the buyer who pulls out. If someone wants to end the sale process after exchange of contracts, they should take the advice of a mortgage solicitor. In London and across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is one set of laws whereas Scotland have another. If someone is completing a house sale in Scotland, the guidance will be different to that set out below.

Practically speaking, this is the point where a mortgage solicitor in London, like Saracens Solicitors, will read the contract out over the phone to the other party’s solicitor. This is to check that they are the same. They will then post them to each other. Prior to this point, there will have been a long process between the buyer and the seller through their solicitors, to finalise the details.

This is the point where the buyer’s mortgage solicitor in London will tell the land registry about the change of ownership. The freeholder of any leasehold property will also be informed.


The seller may request a holding deposit to be paid after the exchange of contracts. This needs to be paid immediately after the exchange has taken place.

Taking out insurance

Once contracts have been exchanged, the buyer becomes legally liable for the state of the building and structure that they are purchasing. This means they are responsible for any damage incurred during this time such as flooding, fire or storm damage. This is why buyers are encouraged to take out buildings insurance from the date of exchange.

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How long is it from exchange of contracts to completion?

A typical time period is around one to two weeks. This offers time for final mortgage paperwork to go through, arrangements for payment of fees and the finalisation of other details like booking a removals firm. Some of these arrangements can only be made after the contracts have been exchanged and the sale is definitely going to go through.