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The Mortgage Guide: Property Sale Completion Process

The great day of completion is here. You're busy loading up the removals van, but if things don't go according to plan you still might not be home and dry. So make sure you know what is expected and keep an eye on every step of the process.

What is completion day?

It's the day the money is transferred, you get the keys and you can start moving into your new home.

What can go wrong?

There are various stumbling blocks, such as when the money is being passed from your mortgage provider (if you're using one) to your solicitors, then to the buyer's solicitors. And if the money hasn't gone through by 3pm, you'll have to wait until the next working day.

You might also be involved in a chain of buyers and sellers. If any of these falls through, the whole process can come grinding to a halt. For example, some buyers fail to take all the costs into account. You have to pay charges such as stamp duty and VAT on agents' fees to your solicitor, otherwise you won't be able to complete.

Can solicitors ever slow down the process?

They should have their full attention on the job and making it go through as quickly as possible, but mistakes can be made - so make sure you check up on them regularly and make your presence felt. A phone call to your solicitors or conveyancers first thing so you understand when the transfer is taking place followed by another call mid-morning would be prudent so you know exactly where things stand.

If I fail to come up with the money will I be fined?

Yes, but if you have failed to pay because your buyers also failed to come up with the money, they will pay a penalty to you, so hopefully you won't lose out.

Who decides when completion day happens?

The vendor and buyer should get the chance to agree this in advance. It traditionally has to be on a working weekday, to enable the money transfers through the bank and so your solicitor is available.

Can I exchange and complete on the same day?

It's standard practice for completion to happen seven to 28 days after exchanging contracts.

But exchanging and completing on the same day is possible, increasingly common, and has certain advantages - it certainly speeds the process up, and means you don't have to pay a deposit on exchange of contracts. However, there are downsides - it is incredibly stressful, and you don't definitely know that you are moving until the day that you move, which makes arranging removals men and forwarding post more complex. If anything does go wrong, you don't have any time to put things right. You will need to have your house packed up with the removals men ready, while you are waiting to hear that contracts are being exchanged. If you are keen to go for this, the things to consider are:

  • It is much less riskier if you and the seller are chain-free, so there is no one else to mess things up
  • It is easier if you are a cash purchaser, so you don't have to worry about transferring money from the mortgage lender
  • Some mortgage lenders are happy with exchanging and completing on the same day, but others require a minimum period (such as five working days) between
  • You and the mortgage lender should transfer the funds to your solicitor the day before, to ensure there are no money transmission problems
  • You are making yourself more vulnerable to an unscrupulous seller demanding something extra at the last moment, as you will be all packed up and ready to go, and not really in a position to negotiate

How do I get the keys?

You can arrange to pick them up directly from the sellers or you can pick up from their estate agents on your way past with the removals van.

What documents should I keep after completion?

Buying a house is a long, complicated process and it's all too easy to forget the finer details. We take a look at the essential documents you should have with you once you complete your house purchase.

Essential house purchase documents your solicitor / conveyancer should provide

Title Deeds: Normally you won't have title deeds - this is because the Land Registry records are now all digital.

You may have title deeds if your property hasn't been registered before, but this is becoming quite rare. You should still get confirmation from your solicitor that s/he has registered you as owner of the property - your solicitor should provide you with a copy of the registered title showing you as "registered proprietor" within a month or two of completion.

If your property is leasehold, your solicitor should give you a copy of the lease (with lease plan of your property) and any service charge accounts or forecasts.

Your solicitor's report on title is a useful document to keep handy. As well as including a summary of the legal title and property search results, it should also have attached the seller's property information form which contains lots of useful practical information like the location of the water stop cock, electricity and gas meters and confirmation of who is responsible for which boundary fences.

For new builds (or properties under 10 years old) - you should have a copy of your Buildmark (NHBC) or other new home policy/warranty documents.

Confirmation from your solicitor that stamp duty has been paid (within 30 days of the completion date).

As appropriate, you should have a copy of any restrictive covenant indemnity insurance policy, chancel repair indemnity insurance or any other legal cover if required by your solicitor (if it is required, the reasons for this will be explained in the solicitor's report on title).

Essential house purchase documents from your seller (if not already provided by your solicitor / conveyancer)

Guarantees - e.g. any recent damp-proofing, new appliances (oven, boiler, etc), FENSA (double-glazing) certificates. FENSA certificates last 10 years; damp proofing guarantee should also be about 10 years. New appliances can have a warranty period of anything from 12 months to perhaps five years for a boiler.

Records of servicing of boiler.

Electrical certificates for any electrics works/rewiring.

Building control certificates for any extensions or conversion works that may have been done to the property.

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