Completing the sale

Once you have a buyer in place and ready to purchase your home, the legal side of the process begins. This is when you’ll most likely need to instruct your solicitor to act on your behalf.

Unfortunately though, this isn’t always the case. Some properties can be on the market for several months with little traction. As such, it’s important to make the most of any bite you get from potential buyers.

Exchange of contracts & completion date

Once the paperwork has been filed and everything’s in place for the move, you’re ready to exchange contracts and agree a completion date.

Exchanging the contracts of the property and completing the deal are two very different things. It’s worth noting that once contracts have been exchanged, this is the point of no return. However, the exchange of contracts isn’t often processed on the day of the completion (although this is becoming more popular).

Exchanging is a legally binding phase of selling the property, so make sure the following has been completed before going through with it:

  • You’re completely happy with any complicated technicalities or phrases – ask your solicitor for clarification if required
  • Ensure a completion date has been agreed
  • A list of fittings and fixtures has been drawn up and agreed with the buying party
  • There is buildings insurance that’s valid from the date of exchange
  • You have seen the contract and have no reservations

You don’t have to be present for the exchange of contracts. Instead, the buyer’s and seller’s conveyancers will read the terms over the phone to ensure they’re identical. Once this has been done, you’re legally bound to sell.

After exchange of contracts, there are a few things you should double check:

  • Your conveyancer has registered transfer of ownership with the land registry
  • The freehold (if leased property) has been told of the new ownership
  • If it’s a share of freehold purchase, a new share certificate is issued

The day of completion

On exchanging contracts you’ll agree a date when everything will be finalised – known as the completion day. This is when you should arrange for your belongings to be moved out of the property (although you can move out beforehand, if you so wish).

It’s on this day that all money is transferred between the relevant parties – and you’ll be notified when completion has been processed.

Money needs to be transferred from the mortgage provider to the buyer’s solicitors, and then to the seller’s solicitors. If this hasn’t been completed by 3pm, you’ll have to wait until the next working day.


When will the completion day be?

Typically, completion days are a working weekday, to ensure the funds can be transferred across without any holdups. On many occasions they’re also at least 28 days after exchange of contracts (on average), although some buyers and sellers can agree to a shorter time period.

  • The shorter the chain, the easier this is to achieve. There are fewer people to cause potential problems
  • Cash buyers typically have more success, as they don’t have to wait for the chain of funds to be transferred between parties
  • The mortgage lender could be opposed to a same day exchange and completion. Some require a minimum of five working days between the two
  • Conversely, some mortgage lenders will transfer money the day before, to ensure no problems arise

What happens to the property’s keys?

After you’ve packed up your belongings and loaded everything onto the removal trucks, take one last sweep of the home to ensure you haven’t forgotten anything. Lock all the windows and doors and where possible, leave tags to say which key denotes to which window or lock.

You should then drop the keys at the estate agent, where the buyer will be able to pick them up from. Also remember to redirect your mail and change your address with banks, insurance providers and other important businesses. This will save you the need to pop back to collect a cluster of letters later down the line.


Post Completion

On most occasions, there aren’t any post completion problems. You’ll be able to move into your new home and forget about the last. However, it’s worth knowing some of the legalities of what could come back your way.

If your solicitor has missed something that causes a loss to you, he or she may be liable to you for their negligence. If the other party in the transaction, i.e. you or the purchaser, has failed to provide something you are entitled to, you can seek compensation from that party for your reasonable losses as they are in breach of contract. You may need to sue them in court if they will not pay up voluntarily.


What happens if the surveyor gets something wrong?

Every chartered surveyor has a professional duty to those entitled to rely upon his or her expertise. This duty applies both when the surveyor is acting for a purchaser directly, or has prepared a Home Report on behalf of a seller on which the purchaser relies.

If an error is made in a survey or valuation which should reasonably have been avoided, you may be able to claim compensation. But watch out - surveyors can put in reasonable get-out clauses in their contract with you. Also be aware that there are various types or levels of survey from a basic valuation to an in-depth inspection (the seller's Home Report contains a second-stage, or more detailed and thorough, survey).

It depends on what kind you instruct as to whether detailed examination of, say, underfloor areas is to be done, or close inspection of the roof is to be carried out. The more you ask for and pay for, the better your protection. There is a legal difference between a full survey and a mortgage valuation in terms of what protections you have.