House completion – the process

If you’re in the process of buying or selling a property, you may well have questions about the house completion process.

Most people will only purchase two or three properties in their lifetime, so it’s easy to understand why the conveyancing process (the legal term for the process of a house changing ownership) is one that few people are overly familiar with.

house completion process

What does completion on a house mean?

‘Completion’ is the word used for the end of the house sale process. At the point of completion, legal ownership will officially transfer from one owner to another.

What’s the difference between exchange of contracts and completion?

Exchange and completion are two separate stages of the house buying or selling process.

Once both parties are ready to go ahead with the sale, they will sign sales contracts.  Signing of the house contract can take place at your own convenience, but must be witnessed by an independent person. On the day of exchange, the signed contracts will be passed to the other party’s solicitor and the buyer will pay a deposit to the seller.  At the point of exchange, the sale will become legally binding. 

Completion occurs on the day the property legally transfers to the new owner.

Can you pull out of a house sale after exchanging contracts?

Once contracts have been exchanged, the house sale becomes legally binding. 

If you decide you need to pull out of the sale, you will lose your deposit and may be sued for breach of contract. This could result in you being financially liable for the cost of the entire sale. If you’re a seller who decides to pull out of the sale after exchange, you will be required to repay the deposit (with interest) and may also be vulnerable to legal action against you.

What happens between exchange and completion

At the point of exchanging contracts, a date will be set for completion of the house sale. This will be a date agreed by the buyer and the seller.  

Between exchange and house sale completion, both parties will be expected to make any necessary arrangements for the move. If you are the buyer, this will include arranging for any mortgage funds to be released to your solicitor ready for payment to the seller’s solicitor.

Until contracts have been exchanged, there is no legal obligation for the sale to complete and no contractual completion date. For this reason, it would be very unwise for either party to make any formal arrangements before contracts have been exchanged.

How long does house completion take?

According to recent figures, it currently takes an average of 115 days to secure a buyer on the open market.  The average time from offer to completion is then a further two to three months.

There are several factors that have the potential to determine the time it takes to complete on a house sale. House completion may take longer if:

  • either the buyer or seller are in a property chain
  • the buyer is reliant on a mortgage 
  • the buyer does not have a mortgage in principle in place before an offer is accepted
  • the searches carried out bring up any cause for concern
  • the survey highlights any issues
  • the mortgage lender has any concerns about the property value given in the formal valuation report

How long do you usually have to wait between exchange and completion?

It is usual to allow one to two weeks between exchange and completion.  This will allow time for any mortgage funds to be released by the lender, and for both parties to arrange removal services and any other necessary arrangements.

Can you exchange and complete on the same day?

It is sometimes possible to exchange and complete on the same day, but whether or not it’s a wise move will depend on your circumstances.

Because a property sale is not legally binding until contracts have been exchanged, you won’t have any guarantee that the sale will go ahead until the day of the move. Mortgage companies also need several days’ notice to release any mortgage funds, so it is likely that you will only be able to arrange for exchange and completion to happen on the same day if the property is being bought with cash.

If you are a seller currently living in the property you’re selling, or a buyer intending to move into the property straight away, it’s unlikely that exchanging and completing on the same day will be the right move for you.  If, however, you are selling an inherited property that is vacant or a former buy-to-let property, exchange and completion on the same day may be a quick and convenient option for you.

How to choose a conveyancing solicitor

You will need to hire a conveyancing solicitor early in the sale process. If you don’t already have a conveyancing solicitor lined up, it is important that you find one quickly in order to ensure the house purchase or sale doesn’t get held up.

A good solicitor is vital to a quick and successful house sale. They will keep you updated regularly regarding the progress of the sale and will talk you through any aspects of the sale that you are unsure of.

A bad solicitor has the potential to really hold your sale up. Recent figures list slow progress as one of the most common reasons for property sales falling through. This means the wrong choice of solicitor can ultimately result in the collapse of the sale.

Personal recommendations from trusted friends or family members are a great way to find a good conveyancing solicitor. You can also ask your mortgage lender or estate agent to recommend solicitors they have worked with previously who have provided a high level of service.

How much will a solicitor cost?

Solicitors can charge in different ways. Some will offer to complete the work for a fixed fee, some will charge an hourly rate, and others may charge a percentage of the property purchase price. Whichever system they use, a solicitor should be able to give you a comprehensive quote for their conveyancing fees before you instruct them. It is important that you choose a solicitor you are confident with, so ensure you keep this as your main criteria rather than simply choosing the cheapest option.

How do solicitors exchange contracts?

Once all of the relevant work has been done and both parties are ready to go ahead with the sale, they will sign identical sales contracts.

The official exchange of contracts will usually happen on the telephone.  Both solicitors will read out the contracts and agree the terms of the contract.  The solicitors will then post the contract to the other part immediately.

At the point of exchanging contracts, solicitors will also agree a legal completion date.

When will you pay your first mortgage payment after completion?

When you arrange your mortgage borrowing, you will need to set up arrangements to make your ongoing mortgage repayments.  Your mortgage lender will also let you know when your first mortgage repayment after completion will be due. If you complete your property purchase halfway through a month, your first repayment may be slightly higher than your usual monthly repayment. This is because it will usually include any payment due for an incomplete month as well as the first full month.

What happens on completion day?

Completion day is usually ‘moving day’. On the day of sale completion, the seller must vacate the property and arrange for the keys to be given to the new owner.

The buyer’s solicitor will transfer the remaining purchase funds across to the seller’s solicitor ready for them to repay any outstanding mortgage or charges, take out their legal conveyancing fees and pay the leftover funds to the seller. Your solicitor will also pay any estate agent out of the sale proceeds.

The seller’s solicitor will send the property title deeds and transfer deed to the buyer’s solicitor. They will need them to register the new owner with The Land Registry.

The buyer will need to pay their legal fees and any stamp duty payable to HMRC.

The estate agent will be responsible for handing over property keys to the new owner on completion.

Completion day checklist

The process of buying a property can quickly become overwhelming. This simple checklist will help to ensure you have everything in place ready for your house completion day.

  • Make sure your solicitor has everything they need for the sale to complete, this includes any paperwork or funds.
  • If you’re purchasing a property, ensure you have buildings insurance in place. It is usually a mortgage company requirement to have buildings insurance in place from the date of exchange.
  • If you have children or pets, you might want to arrange childcare or petcare for moving day. This will help to make the move less stressful.
  • Label all boxes clearly for the removal company. This will ensure they know where in the new property to put the different boxes
  • If you’re selling a property, make a list of important information for the property’s new owners. Let them know the locations of stopcocks and your fuse box. You should also leave any instruction booklets for appliances you’re leaving in the property. Any extra details about things like rubbish collection days etc will also be appreciated by the new owner.
  • Pack a box of moving essentials that you keep with you. Include items such as kettle, mugs, tea bags and toilet roll. You could also put together a box of clothes and bedding for your first night in your new property.

Who do you need to tell about your move?

It may be helpful to make a list of the people you need to notify about the move. This will include:

  •  Your bank or building society and any credit card providers
  • Your local council to arrange transfer of council tax responsibility
  • The post office (you can arrange to use their mail redirecting service for a small charge)
  • The DVLA (if you have a driving licence)
  • Your utilities providers – you will also need to give them final meter readings on the day you move.
  • Your workplace
  • Your phone and broadband provider
  • Any subscription service providers eg. on-demand television, mail order or magazine subscriptions

Worried your sale might fall through before completion?

If you’re worried that your property sale might not make it to completion, are stuck in a slow property sale or you simply like the idea of a guaranteed sale on a date of your choice, a professional property buying company could take the stress and uncertainty out of your move. You can find out more about professional home buying companies here.

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Danny Luke

Danny Luke

As Managing Director, Danny is responsible for the overall performance of Quick Move Now and provides strategic guidance and direction to all its employees. Danny is committed to making Quick Move Now the leading and most trusted home buying company in the UK.
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