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I live in the UK, and am currently in the process of buying my first house.

After viewing the house, I initially made an offer that was a bit lower than the asking price. The sellers declined the offer, and I ended up going back to them and offering the asking price, with the condition that they leave some of the fixtures and furnishings- they accepted this verbal offer.

I am currently getting all of the documentation signed & witnessed to send back to my solicitor to proceed with the purchase. However, when going through the documentation, I noticed that there was one specific item on the list of fixtures and furnishings that had been ticked as 'excluded', despite this being one of the items I had specifically requested, and the sellers verbally agreed to (the sellers had also offered to include some things I hadn't specified, as they are down-sizing).

I emailed my solicitor to request an updated list of fixtures and furnishings which would include this specific item, and they got back to me to say that "the fixtures list is attached, the sellers haven't proposed to send a new one to reflect the missing item". I emailed my solicitor back to ask them to specifically request an updated list, including this item, and they got back to me asking me to send the signed documentation through, and said that they would update it on their end then, with everyone's agreement...

I am a bit skeptical of this... although it is not a deal-breaker, the particular item would be a few hundred pounds for me to purchase myself, and I'm a bit miffed that it appears that the sellers are now trying to back-track on what they had agreed to verbally.

I was also surprised that my solicitor asked me to send the signed documents, and said that they would subsequently alter one of the documents (even if they did specify "with everyone's agreement")... My (very limited) understanding of the law, is that once a contract (and any associated documents) have been signed, dated & witnessed, they become legally binding- or in the case of a house purchase, is this just at the point of exchange of contracts?

Even if it is only at the point of exchange of contracts, the fact that my solicitor expressly stated that they would alter a signed document (even if they did say "with everyone's agreement"), immediately rang alarm bells for me- surely you would need a new document to replace the original one, if there were changes to be made, and this new document would need to be signed by all parties?

While the list of fixtures and furnishings is hardly the most important thing in a house purchase, if they can make changes to that signed document, what's to stop them making changes to the purchase contract (for example, the price at which I have agreed to purchase the property), without my knowledge or consent?

My solicitor is now waiting for me to send all of the signed documentation to them, including the list of fixtures & furnishings with the excluded item.

How should I handle this?

To be clear, I am not asking for advice on whether or not to proceed, or anything like that- simply what the legal implications are of altering a document after it has been signed.

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what the legal implications are of altering a document after it has been signed.

There is a significant risk that the counterparty will dispute the legitimacy of any changes made after a contract is signed. The heightened formalities of purchasing a house are intended precisely to preempt dubious alterations of the contract.

Furthermore, the contract might be voidable by the party who disputes the alterations. This means that the seller could use this as pretext to rescind the contract if in the meantime it finds another buyer who is willing to pay more for the property. The seller's erraticism regarding the fixtures suggests its/his propensity to behave similarly toward sale altogether.

How should I handle this?

Never sign a contract that differs from what the counterparty has made you expect. You are not supposed to trust promises that are not properly reflected in the contract, especially in arm's-length transactions like this one.

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  • Thanks for your answer. This is what I had thought, but given it's the first time I have bought a house, I wasn't sure if there were practices that I wasn't aware of which differed to other contracts, etc. I find it worrying that my solicitor explicitly requested that I send signed documentation to them, informing me that they would subsequently make changes to a signed document... I would expect to be able to trust my own solicitor to act in my best interests, but this doesn't seem to be the case here... – Noble-Surfer Jun 26 at 12:01
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    @Noble-Surfer "I would expect to be able to trust my own solicitor to act in my best interests". At first glance it seems surprising, but there is so much incompetence in the legal "profession". Only a very small portion of instances of lawyer incompetence are brought to court as claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (more common in criminal cases), negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, or alike. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 26 at 12:18
  • That's really interesting... I am surprised that this level of incompetence is tolerated- especially in something like house buying/ selling, where there are potentially very large sums at stake... I want to be able to rely on the professionals to pick up on things that I, as someone with little/ no knowledge of the legal system, may miss. – Noble-Surfer Jun 26 at 13:24
  • A further development: my solicitor emailed me earlier today to say that the seller's solicitors had confirmed their position (that it would be included with the house) on this specific item by email, but that if I was requesting that the Fixtures Form be revised, then they would need to ask the seller's solicitors to get the sellers to amend the form and return it to them. I replied that yes, I would like the Fixtures Form to accurately reflect the fixtures that are to be left there. – Noble-Surfer Jun 26 at 14:28
  • I then had a phone call from my solicitor saying that they had contacted the seller's solicitor to request this, but that the seller's solicitor was refusing to get back in touch with the seller... which seems odd to me... My solicitor also tried to 'reassure' me that making alterations to both my copy & the seller's copy of the contract on the day that we exchange to reflect this will be fine... Needless to say, I'm hearing the warning sirens...! – Noble-Surfer Jun 26 at 14:31

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