Exchange of contracts and completion: a step-by-step guide

Once you have had an offer on a property accepted, there are a series of steps the buyer and the seller must complete before the new home is yours.

There are no guarantees until the contracts have been exchanged and even then you may have to wait a few weeks before the seller will be able to hand the keys over. Exactly how long the process takes from beginning to end can vary but if the standard two weeks between exchange of contracts and completion is not long enough to arrange the move you can always ask for more time. Here is our step-by-step guide to what happens next after your offer is accepted.

1. Pay your deposit

The buyer pays a deposit to their solicitor or conveyancer. It is usually about 5% of the total agreed price of the house but it can be up to 10%. If the buyer pulls out after this stage they will lose this deposit and may face legal action from the seller. This is also the point where the buyer will also pay any other costs due to their solicitor, such as Stamp Duty. Make sure you check the details of your solicitor’s bank carefully before making any payments.

2. Sign and then exchange contracts

The buyer’s solicitor will provide a series of legal documents to sign, including identical contracts which will be signed by both the buyer and the solicitor. These will then be sent by recorded delivery to each other’s solicitor or conveyancer. At this point, the deal is legally binding and no one can back out.

3. Make sure you are covered

At this stage, protect yourself with buildings insurance cover and consider life insurance too. There are big sums of money involved in buying a house and it is essential to prepare for any unexpected events.

4. A date for completion is set

Completion is when the money changes hands and you are able to finally get hold of the keys to your new place. A time of two weeks is usually allocated between exchanging contracts and completion, although it can be even quicker than this. The buyer’s solicitor can be sued if they fail to meet the deadline. Use this time to plan your move, pack your belongings and book a removals company if necessary. Make a list of all the people who need to know about your change of address, including utilities companies. If you think you need longer to prepare you can ask your solicitor to arrange this.

5. The lender releases the money

When the lender has received a Certificate of Title from the buyer’s solicitor, they will release the money to them. The Certificate of Title contains detailed information of the history of ownership of the property, and a complete legal description of it.

6. Final checks are made

Right before the lender releases the money, they’ll do a final check to make sure your circumstances haven’t changed. It’s a good idea not to do anything which might affect your credit rating around this time, such as maxing out any credit cards or making any large purchases.

7. The seller receives the money

Once the buyer’s solicitor receives money from the lender, they will forward it on to the seller’s solicitor. The sale is complete once the seller has received the money.

8. Time to pick up the keys

With the sale complete, there is now only one thing left to do – pick up the keys to your new home and move in.

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