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  1. Blog
  2. Exchange and completion
House selling tips
25 May 2023

Exchange and completion

Sam Edwards
Senior Writer & Researcher
Man and woman hug each in a living room filled with packed moving boxes.

Table of contents

  1. 1. What's the difference between exchange and completion?
  2. 2. What to do before you exchange contracts...
  3. 3. What happens at the exchange of contracts?
  4. 4. What could go wrong between exchange and completion?
  5. 5. What happens between exchanging contracts and completion?
  6. 6. What is the best day to complete?
  7. 7. What happens if the completion date isn't met?
  8. 8. What happens on completion day?
  9. 9. Can you speed up exchange and completion?
  10. 10. Summary: Be prepared!
  11. 11. FAQs

When a seller accepts an offer on their property, the sale approaches its conclusion: exchange and completion. While this is an exciting period for buyers and sellers, it can also be quite stressful - a lot can happen between exchange and completion, so it's important to prepare as much as possible.

In this section, we'll talk you through exchange and completion in a step-by-step format, evaluating and advising against some of the risks involved in the process.

What's the difference between exchange and completion?

The difference between exchange and completion is fairly straightforward:

Exchange contracts

'Exchange' refers to the date at which the buyer's solicitor and the seller's solicitor exchange contracts. Once documents are exchanged, both the buyer and seller are legally bound to complete the transaction, with a purchase price set in stone. It's during this process, that a 'completion date' is set.

Completion of sale

'Completion' refers to the mutually agreed completion date of the transaction. The date marks the final transfer of property ownership, where the buyer pays the exchange deposit and mortgage monies to the seller. Once the seller's solicitor confirms that they've received payment, the estate agent meets the buyer to hand over keys to the property.

How long after your mortgage offer is the exchange?

The timeframe from when the buyer initially submits their mortgage application to the date of contract exchange typically spans two months. The timeframe largely depends on the speed and preparation of the parties involved.

What to do before you exchange contracts...

Before an exchange of contracts can get underway, the buyer and the seller need to get their affairs in order. While both parties have certain responsibilities, buyers have much more to deal with.

If you're a buyer you should...

  • Arrange Buildings insurance on your property. Buildings insurance covers your home against damage to its structure and fixtures. Packages usually cover damage from floods, fires, storms and vandalism.
  • Check your surveys. Are they complete and are you happy with the results?
  • Ensure you have your mortgage offer in writing. You don't want to lose your mortgage after you agree to purchase the property.
  • Make sure you have your deposit funds ready. A buyer's deposit funds are usually 5 - 15% of the property price, but your solicitor will advise on the final figure.
  • Make sure you know what fixtures and fittings you get to keep. You don’t want to be misled about what your purchase includes. If you keep a list, you can ensure you are compensated if they don’t abide by what was agreed.
  • Ensure the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating is to your liking. Scores of 'A' or 'B' are the best, while scores of D and E are poor. You can read more about EPCs here in our guide to 'Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)'.

If you're a seller you should...

  • Respond to all of the buyer's enquiries. Clear answers will help the exchange run smoothly.
  • Ensure you have all the relevant documentation for the buyer's inspection. This includes warranties, certifications of building works, and guarantees.

Both the buyer and seller should...

  1. Sign the contract of sale. This is the legal document that outlines the terms and conditions of the property transaction. It includes details such as the purchase price, deposit amount, and completion date. Once both parties have signed the contract, it becomes legally binding.
  2. Sign the deed of transfer of title. This document transfers the ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer and is an essential part of the conveyancing process.
  3. Agree upon a completion date. Although the specific date needs to be mutually agreed upon by both parties, it is generally recommended to set it a few weeks in advance to allow for necessary preparations and arrangements before the actual completion of the transaction.

Why might the exchange not happen on the planned date?

Contract exchanges may encounter delays on the scheduled date due to several factors.

In a property chain, your conveyancing solicitor is required to contact the other solicitors involved in the chain. However, if any of the solicitors are unavailable or if the process exceeds the expected timeframe, your solicitor may need to commence the entire procedure anew on the following day.

If you're not in a property chain, this is less likely to happen - but a solicitor can still change the arranged date. That's why it's important to pick a firm that you trust. The best conveyancers will accommodate your dates using the latest tech.

Need more information? Check out our guide on 'How to pick a conveyancer'.

What happens at the exchange of contracts?

The exchange process usually takes place over the phone.

  1. The solicitors confirm the house sale across the property chain (if the parties are part of one). But how does this work? The seller's solicitor must ring the next conveyancer along the chain and so on, until all parties have been notified.
  2. The solicitors exchange signed contracts after a moving timeframe has been confirmed. The buyer's conveyancer will receive the fully signed title deed, and both parties are now legally bound to complete the transaction.

Can you pull out after a contract exchange?

It's rare for either party to pull out after an exchange of contracts because both parties are legally bound to complete the transaction.

If you're a buyer looking to pull out after a contract exchange, it's worth remembering that you have the most to lose. Your house deposit, plus interest, could be forfeit.

Our advice - never proceed to the exchange if you have doubts about the transaction. If you do need to pull out due to unforeseen circumstances (bereavement, trauma), you may be able to negotiate on compassionate grounds, and get the seller to reduce the scale of your financial losses.

If you're a seller looking to pull out after a contract exchange, this isn't as calamitous, but you will be liable for the buyer's conveyancer and surveyor fees. It's also worth noting that future estate agents will be wary of your commitment to selling because you've pulled out at such a crucial stage.

What should your estate agent be doing during exchange and completion?

While exchange and completion has a lot to do with solicitors, your estate agent shouldn't be idle. A good estate agent remains proactive by motivating both parties to complete the sale:

Your estate agent should:

  • Update the buyer and seller: With both parties unable to communicate directly, agents should update parties on the progress of the sale.
  • Help negotiate: With years of experience under their belts, good estate agents will help negotiate should any issues arise.
  • Provide reassurance: This is a stressful period, but estate agents have seen it all before. A good agent will provide reassurance to both parties throughout the process.

But how can you make sure you're with the right estate agent?

Use GetAgent's free Estate Agent Comparison Tool to compare the best agents in your local area. Powered by reliable data from the Land Registry and property portals, GetAgent makes it easy to find the best performers.

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What could go wrong between exchange and completion?

While exchanging contracts makes both parties obligated to complete the sale, there are a number of things that can go wrong before completion. Let's take a look at a couple...

The property chain breaks due to another buyer or seller pulling out

Unless you're selling to a first-time buyer or cash buyer (or are one yourself) your transaction is likely part of a property chain.

A chain can break for a number of reasons. For example, if a buyer further up the property chain has their mortgage offer revoked, this will have a knock-on effect on all the other parties. If a property chain breaks, everyone in the chain will find themselves in breach of contract if they're unable to complete the transaction. If this happens to you, it's important to move fast in order to prevent the worst outcome.

  1. Contact your conveyancing solicitor immediately.
  2. Account for all your costs, expenses and losses by gathering together any evidence you have, including receipts and invoices.
  3. In the event that the chain cannot be resolved, you'll be faced with either making claims against either the buyer or seller, or alternatively, preparing for potential claims to be made against you.

The house is damaged as a result of fire, flood or storm

If the house is damaged as a result of fire, flood, or storm before the completion date, the sale must still go ahead. Who is liable for these damages depends on the terms negotiated in the contract of sale.

How can you reduce problems between exchange and completion?

There's a few things you can do to prevent problems occurring between exchange and completion:

  • Get a good conveyancing solicitor: One of the best ways to minimise problems between exchange and completion is instructing a reliable conveyancer. The best have the right skills and experience to take you through to the end of your sale. You can read more about 'How to find a good conveyancer' here.
  • Manage your budget: Make sure you have the right funds for removal day and any other extra fees you might need to pay on completion day.
  • Maintain healthy dialogue: Whether you're a buyer or seller, it's best to keep things open and friendly. Ensure all communication is clear and transparent.

How long after the exchange is completion?

The period between the exchange of contracts and completion typically ranges from one to three weeks for most individuals, although it can extend up to two months in certain cases. There are several factors that can contribute to this extended timeframe:

  • If you are purchasing a new build home, completion may be delayed due to ongoing construction work, requiring additional time.
  • If you currently reside in rented accommodation, the notice period stipulated in your tenancy agreement may influence the chosen completion date.

In rare instances, the exchange and completion of contracts can occur on the same day.

The specific duration between exchange and completion is determined by the agreement reached between both parties during the contract exchange. It is also contingent upon the availability and coordination of all parties involved in the property chain. In longer chains, it is likely that accommodations need to be made to accommodate significant life events, such as the arrival of a baby.

Opting for a longer wait period between exchange and completion can offer certain advantages. It provides you with ample time to secure the services of a trustworthy removal company. Given that moving homes can be a stressful experience, it is crucial to allocate a sufficient window to make the necessary arrangements and bookings.

What happens between exchanging contracts and completion?

Between exchange and completion, both parties should make arrangements to meet the set date for completion.

If you're a buyer you should...

  1. Confirm your moving arrangements with a reliable removals company. It's a good idea to start packing too - leaving things till the last minute can cause a great deal of stress.
  2. Arrange the transfer of services and taxes like broadband or Council Tax.
  3. Change your registered address with contracts and services.

Your solicitor should be working with your mortgage company to ensure the correct amount of money is transferred on completion day. They should also be drawing up a final statement for completion day.

If you're a seller you should...

  1. Confirm your moving arrangements with a reliable removals company. Don't leave packing until the last minute!
  2. Double check the correct fixtures and fittings are being left behind.
  3. Change your registered address with contracts and services.
  4. Leave your keys with your estate agent so they can hand them over on completion day.

Your solicitor should confirm a final redemption amount with the buyer's mortgage lender. They should also draw up a final statement for completion day.

What is the best day to complete?

While most homeowners work full time, Friday is generally considered to be the best day to move in. This gives homeowners enough time to unpack over the weekend and enjoy their new home.

How do you agree on a completion date?

The best way to agree on a completion date is through compromise.

There are usually two to four weeks from exchange to completion, but the more people involved in a property chain, the longer it can take to find a date that can work for everyone. The odds are that no one will find an ideal date - which means it's better to concede where possible to come to a final arrangement.

Can you exchange and complete on the same day?

You can exchange and complete the sale on the same day, but we don't recommend it. Moving these dates together increases the possibility of something going wrong:

  • Someone further down the chain might not receive their mortgage funds in time. Late payments can prevent completion from going ahead.
  • Removal companies need enough notice to book you in. Exchanging and completing on the same day can prevent you from finding a decent removal company, causing stress for everyone involved.

Our advice: Spread out those exchange and completion dates! Book your removal companies with confidence, rather than in a rush.

What happens if the completion date isn't met?

Failing to meet the completion date could see you in breach of the sale contract. As with pulling out of the sale, the buyer has the most to lose in this scenario.

If you're a buyer and you fail to complete, you'll be served a notice to complete the sale within 10 working days (2 weeks). This is the conditional period before contracts are rescinded. During this period, you will be liable for interest on any funds not sent through to the homeseller.

Not completing within timeframe could lead to:

  • The contract being rescinded and your deposit being forfeit.
  • The seller putting their property back on the market.

The seller will be able to pursue losses if they can't sell their property for the same sale price.

If you're a seller and you fail to complete, the buyer is free to rescind the contract (unless you've already withdrawn it).

You will also be liable for:

  • Returning the buyer's deposit
  • Paying the buyer's costs and legal fees

What happens on completion day?

On completion day, the property transaction reaches its conclusion! Whether you're a buyer or seller, this is usually met with sighs of relief.

Of course, there's still time for things to go wrong. One of the biggest issues on completion day is often the timely transfer of funds. If you're a buyer, your solicitor should aim to transfer payment before 3pm on Friday. Any payments after this time may not be processed until the following day, leaving completion in jeopardy.

Should everything go according to plan, the conveyancers of both parties follow a schedule like this:

  1. The buyer's solicitor transfers all the purchase money (including mortgage deposit) to the seller's solicitor.
  2. The buyer's solicitor registers the title deed of ownership with the Land Registry.
  3. Any outstanding SDLT is paid by the buyer's solicitor.
  4. The buyer's solicitor sends their client several documents confirming the purchase is complete. These include the Title Information Document, a summary of Land Registry data, and an SDLT5 certificate.
  5. Meanwhile, the seller's solicitor redeems the mortgage payment on the property, as well as any other outstanding bills, including the estate agent's fee and their own.
  6. The seller's solicitor finally transfers the remaining balance over to the seller, along with a completion statement document.

Once the conveyancers have confirmed their payments, it's over to the buyers and sellers...

  • The seller takes any final meter readings, before handing their keys over to their estate agent (or a prior agreed person).
  • The seller vacates the property by 1pm as per industry practice. The buyer goes to meet the estate agent to collect the keys to their new home.
  • The buyer ensures all agreed fittings and fixtures have been left behind.
  • The buyer changes the locks on their new home.

Can you speed up exchange and completion?

Yes! But speeding up the transaction is contingent on your preparation and responsiveness.

If you're a buyer...

  • Book your surveys early.
  • Have your money ready for completion.
  • Find a good solicitor.

If you're a seller...

  • Choose an experienced estate agent who can navigate the highs and the lows of the sale.
  • Make sure you communicate clearly with the buyer throughout the selling process.
  • Find out as much as possible about the other parties in the chain.
  • Ensure you've got all the necessary documentation for the contact exchange.
  • Instruct a well-reviewed conveyancing solicitor.

Summary: Be prepared!

Closing a property transaction successfully is an achievement that favours the prepared. Whether you're buying a house or selling your home, covering all the bases will reward you in the long run.


What does it mean when you exchange contracts when buying a house?

When your offer is accepted by a home seller, you need to exchange contracts and agree on a completion date. Your conveyancers will contact each other (usually by phone) to exchange signed sales contracts. If you are part of a property chain, the other chain parties must exchange contracts on the same day. This is to ensure all parties are able to conclude their sale. When contracts are exchanged, a completion date is set.

What is a completion date when you're buying a house?

The completion date is the day your house purchase is concluded. On completion day, your funds are transferred by your conveyancer to the seller's solicitor. After the buyer has moved out (usually by 1pm) you can collect the keys to your new home and start moving in.

When do I receive funds from house sale?

Funds from your house sale should arrive in your bank account on the day of completion. Your conveyancer will transfer them to your account once they have been received.

Do I own the house on exchange or completion?

Exchange is when the sale becomes legally binding, while completion is when the buyer becomes the new owner of the property, so you would own the house after completion.

Can you do building work between exchange and completion?

You can do building work between exchange and completion by using a side legal agreement called a Key Undertaking. Home sellers will ask for a Key Undertaking if they need to get their property finished to a good standard. This can happen if the property has been vacant for a while and needs refurbishment.

Is an offer on a house legally binding in England?

If you've accepted a verbal offer on a house, you might be wondering whether it's illegal to pull out. No, offers are not legally binding in England until contracts have been exchanged. However, it’s considered bad etiquette to pull out of an offer, especially if you've received a higher offer. This is called gazumping.

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selling your home?

Picking the right estate agent is vital for a successful sale. GetAgent makes choosing simple. Discover the best performing agents in your area.

  • Free
  • Data-driven
  • No obligation

Ready to compare agents?

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