It is 4pm on a Thursday (dark already outside) and I receive a call from a friendly agent who is well known to me: “…we really need your help for a buyer that needs to exchange contracts by close of business tomorrow. They’re outbidding another buyer, but are based overseas and the seller is only giving them until tomorrow.” Adrenaline sets in and as any other solicitor working in the high-pressure London market will know the feeling all too well – the night ahead suddenly just got a lot longer as you know you have no choice but to succeed in meeting the deadline.
Traditionally, an attended exchange is the term used to describe a speedy residential property purchase, where the buyer and seller, as well as their respective solicitors, sit in a room and rapidly (within half a day or a day) bash out exchange of contracts.
In more recent times, thanks to the revolutionary technology and email, attended exchanges can be carried out whilst all parties remain in the comfort of their own homes (now that we are all remote working). The solicitor is given about 24 hours to 1) onboard the client (including KYC/AML checks); and 2) carry out the legal due diligence on the property (including review of contract papers and reporting to the client).
By the Friday morning, I had completed the onboarding process and legal due diligence; had sent over several pre-exchange enquiries to the seller’s solicitor, and some amendments I required to be made to the contract. My opposite number was working around the clock making this transaction a priority over others to ensure that all enquiries were answered satisfactorily to secure the exchange of contracts on behalf of the seller.
There may be circumstances where the seller and buyer are prepared to exchange subject to buyer receiving: 1) satisfactory mortgage offer 2) satisfactory survey 3) satisfactory local authority search results etc. However, more often than not, buyers entering these types of rapid exchanges will ‘take a view’ on the more commercial aspects of the property transaction (i.e. has it been burgled, who is the electricity provider etc), subject to the solicitor providing a degree of comfort that the legal documentation is in order and there is ‘good and marketable title’. Perhaps not too dissimilar to auction property transactions.
Some solicitors choose to fit the entire attended exchange into one day, i.e. Thursday evening free and get stuck in Friday. It is still achievable depending on the circumstances. However, it takes a certain resilience to withstand the hourly calls from various parties asking “has it happened yet?” and then on top of that, all the other transactions, clients and agents being managed simultaneously.
It is a remarkable achievement for the solicitors who carry out these types of rapid exchanges – which take place more often than many would realise – particularly in central London. Many clients cannot believe it is possible, questioning why they have friends and family who told them that exchanges in the UK take 3 months minimum(!). The truth of the matter is that there is no real science to it. The key ingredients are collaborative solicitors, proactive buyers and sellers and estate agents who will go the extra mile to ensure the exchange goes through as quickly as humanly possible.
The sigh of relief after the exchange telephone call is finished and the deal is effectively done is always a satisfying one. Everyone is positively buzzing for the weekend ahead and you have ended the week branded a hero.
Then, having rested and recharged over the weekend, I casually check my emails on Sunday evening and see a new message staring back at me from the screen – “… we really need your help for a buyer that needs to exchange contracts by close of business tomorrow…” – and so the modern day attended exchange has become very normalised.