Swap option gets things moving: Buying and selling is not the only way to switch homes. Ian Hunter reports

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The Independent Online
LOUISE and Charles Lamb were desperate to move. Their two-bedroom house was no longer big enough for their two young children and they needed more space urgently. So they put their house on the market in March 1992 and eventually moved in January 1993. However, they did not sell the house - they swapped it.

The Lambs used the West Country estate agents, Constables' Home Exchange Bureau. Constables managed to locate someone also living in Torpoint, in Devon, who was willing to exchange her three-bedroom house, valued at pounds 48,000, for the Lambs' two-bedroom house, valued at pounds 38,000.

Louise Lamb comments: 'We had no success in selling our house until we used the Home Exchange Bureau. The service was quick once we found someone to swap with, and matters were completed within six to eight weeks.'

Property exchange has grown in popularity as house owners have encountered more difficulty selling their properties during the recession.

It has a number of advantages over the conventional method of buying and selling houses. Usually property exchange bureaux charge only a fixed fee for putting buyers and sellers in touch. The Hampshire-based National Property Exchange charges a registration fee of pounds 69, while London's Property Swap Shop makes a charge of pounds 49.

Constables, however, charges a fee similar to the estate agent's normal commission rate. This, unlike registration fees, only becomes payable at completion.

As part of the registration process, clients describe their present property, including details such as how many rooms it has, their type and condition. The description should also make it clear whether the house is detached or if it has a garden or garage. Clients must provide a realistic market value for their property. They should state where they want to move to and the price that they are willing to pay for their new home. National Property Exchange allows its clients to select up to four counties for relocation.

Once all the information has been registered, the property exchange bureau attempts to match clients' needs.

National Property Exchange promises: 'If we cannot send you any connections within 28 days of entering your needs on our computer, then you may have your fee refunded in full.'

Those who use the property exchange system and arrange a swap should still ensure that the house is surveyed in the normal way and that the usual legal searches and inquiries are carried out.

Substantial savings can be made on stamp duty where the properties swapped are valued at more than pounds 60,000 - stamp duty is not payable on properties worth less than pounds 60,000. When properties are exchanged, as opposed to bought and sold, the duty is only paid on the difference between the values of the two properties.

Savings can also be made on removal expenses when both parties agree to use the same removal firm.

According to Louise Lamb, one of the greatest advantages with property exchange is 'the knowledge that your new home will not be snarled up in a chain transaction'.

Wimpey Homes offers its clients a new-for-old, part-exchange service. Under this scheme, if clients buy new houses from Wimpey, the company will consider buying the client's existing property at a price based upon independent valuation. The company points out: 'Although confidence in the housing market is undoubtedly returning, much of the activity and many of the incentives, including financial help, are concentrated in the first-time buyer sector, leaving those who already own homes and wish to change with only part-exchange as a way of moving house.'

There is little protection when fees are paid up front to an agency. Agencies have been known to take fees and then go out of business or simply disappear.

Those who are concerned about using a property exchange agency may be able to obtain guidance as to that agency's reputation from their solicitor, surveyor or registered conveyancer.

Further information: Constables (0752) 813688; National Property Exchange (0705) 754985; Wimpey Homes (West Country) (0272) 758296.

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