It’s a Carter Jonas legend. The house was a Victorian property in York. The viewer was a young Chinese lady. The time was 10am. She said: “I’ll pay the price but I want a quick deal”. We said: “About three to four weeks?” “No, I want to be in by tonight”.
We exchanged contracts at 1pm and completed at 5pm. Twenty years on, it remains our fastest ever transaction.
I was reminded of this the other day, when we exchanged contracts on another Victorian house in York, just eight days after agreeing a sale. This time it was more conventional, with an agent, two sets of solicitors, a survey, and a mortgage. Our celebrations raised two questions: Does it really matter if a sale takes a long time to exchange contracts? And if it does, how do you ensure it happens quickly?
The answer to the first question is easy. It is rarely in anyone’s interests to have a drawn out exchange, especially in today’s jumpy market. The longer it takes, the greater the likelihood of either party pulling out, so most people would prefer to see an exchange of contracts within no more than a month. More difficult is making it happen.
The starting point has to be a careful choice of estate agent. He or she will be advising you on one of the largest financial transactions of your life. You need to be absolutely sure that they will not only find you a buyer at the right price but will also act like a terrier after a sale has been agreed, ensuring the transaction goes through.
Any seller or buyer should also take just as much trouble when choosing a solicitor. They rarely do. When did you last hear of anyone arranging to meet a solicitor (or two) with a view to deciding which lawyer would be the one for their sale? Do try to see them in person, judge their capability and ask them who’s in charge if they go on holiday.
In most cases buyers will also need a mortgage, which may be arranged through an Independent Financial Advisor. Again, apply the same rule. An efficient IFA can also ginger up your lender. Finally, there is the surveyor. That one is a bit trickier, as he may be chosen by your lender. However, it may be possible to use a surveyor who is known to be efficient but also, in the case of a period house, has a good knowledge of older properties.
Returning to our eight-day exchange, we were lucky to have a sensible seller, a sensible buyer and a dream team of professional advisors.
The seller’s solicitor, David Ball of Fraser Dawbarns in Wisbech, immediately identified two potential problems, relating to a flood threat and earlier underpinning. Reassuring documents were obtained.
“Sellers don’t like to think about any problems until they are raised part way through the transaction. We send out a Property Information Form with our initial care letter and insist that our sellers complete it, to identify potential hiccups at an early stage. As soon as the sale has been agreed, the Contents Form is emailed to the seller reflecting what the parties have agreed. I can prepare a contract and have it emailed out to the buyer’s solicitor in under an hour, so there is no excuse for delays,” says David.
David is the first to admit that much also hinges on the buyer’s solicitor: “Some of them are simply covering their backs with numerous questions, many of which are of little relevance. Nick Billingham of Langleys in York, who was acting for the buyer, just asked questions that mattered.”
Over to Nick, who has strong views on the subject. He reports that all correspondence was via speedy email and searches were done electronically. Unbelievably, a significant minority of solicitors still won’t use email, Make sure your solicitor isn’t one of those.
So that’s how the eight-day exchange was done. With the right attitude and the right team in place, is there any reason why it should not become the norm?
Edward Stoyle is a partner and head of agency at the York office of Carter Jonas.