This article is part of our home selling advice series. This article relates to house sales through estate agents as well as property auctions.
Congratulations! If you’re reading this then the end of your home sale must be in sight. But the stress isn’t quite over just yet. You’ve still got moving day!
Moving day can be stressful. It’s made up of three main things: Packing, waiting, and (eventually) moving.
But how long do you need to wait? What time of day is completion?
Completion can happen as early as 10am and as late as 4pm. The average is around midday. The exact time for you will depend on the number of other sales in your chain, how proactive your solicitor is, and how quickly the banking system processes the transactions.
There are some things you can do to get a better idea of what time completion will take place. There are also some steps you can take to make completion more likely to happen earlier in the day – meaning you get the keys sooner!
Read on to learn more.
1. What affects completion time? (And what can you do about it?)
If you've gotten as far as completion then you've built up some experience in the "house selling game". One thing you may have learned is that, unfortunately, you're almost never in control. Your fate always seems to be in someone else's hands.
With completion day it's no different.
You're relying on a lot of other people (and things) to do their job in a proactive and timely manner to make sure you can collect the keys at a reasonable time on completion day. You're relying on:
- The lender. Your mortgage lender (and every other lender in the chain) needs to have sent the money so it's in your solicitor's account.
- The solicitor. Once mortgage funds are with your solicitor they need to "set up" completion. This includes instructing their accounts team to transfer the funds to the seller's solicitor.
- Accounts teams and banking system. Once the accounts team have been instructed to send funds, they need to actually send them. There can be delays here if the accounts team are overwhelmed with payments they need to make. This is more likely to happen on a Friday, when a lot of completions tend to take place.
- The estate agents. If things aren't happening within the normal timeframes, you're relying on your estate agent to be aware of it, and pick the phone up to chase things through. As frustrating as it is, things in property often need a "chaser" before they'll happen.
- The seller. The seller needs to actually vacate and hand over the keys. You'd assume this one would be straight forward but it isn't always the case.
Each of these things can cause a delay. Let's go into a bit more detail on the part each part plays - and how it effects the time completion will happen.
1.1. The lender
In the run up to completion your solicitor will "request funds" from your mortgage lender. They usually need around 5 working days' notice for this. If your solicitor has requested them with plenty of time to spare (which they usually do) then you shouldn't have a problem here. The funds should just arrive in your solicitor's account by the day of completion.
Now, this isn't always the case. There can be instances, particularly when a lender is overwhelmed with requests, that the money isn't there when you'd expect. This can lead to a nervous wait on the morning of completion.
"If the buyer has taken out a mortgage, then the mortgage lender may not be efficient in transferring the money to the seller. This leaves both the purchaser and the vendor waiting on the lender."
- Completion guide on NetLawman.co.uk, a legal resource service for solicitors
Thankfully these instances are relatively rare, especially if you're using a mainstream lender. Issues may be more likely to arise with smaller institutions - for example bridging lenders. If this is the case make sure you're in touch with your account manager or BDM in the days running up to completion to ensure they're being proactive.
All in all you shouldn't really expect a problem with funds arriving on time though.
1.2. The solicitor
Once funds arrive with your solicitor, the person acting for you will need to reach out the other side and coordinate completion. Once the solicitors have reconfirmed everything with each other, yours will instruct their accounts team to send the money.
Again, delays don't really occur with your solicitor doing this. Solicitors tend to treat completions as their top priority because they know you'll be waiting around for keys.
Delays can still happen though - particularly if the solicitor is understaffed due to absences or if there are a lot of completions all happening at once. This is most likely to happen on a Friday. (According to a 2019 study by CompareMyMove, 34% of home moves take place on a Friday)
1.3. The accounts team & banking system
Once your solicitor's accounts team receives the instruction to send funds they'll set up the payment. Again, small delays can creep in here, particularly on a busy completion day.
Once funds have been sent this is where the waiting can begin though.
As normal consumers we're used to payments happening instantly. When you pay for your weekly shop at Tesco you don't have to wait in the supermarket for an hour afterwards to make sure your payment clears. It just goes through, and you carry on with your day.
It's not the same with bank transactions and house purchases though.
Large payments are sent by CHAPS or TT, which is a same-day transfer. (You'll usually see a cost of about £25 on your completion statement for this. The banks charge a fee for these high-value high-speed transactions). Although these transfers are same-day they aren't instant. It can take a couple of hours for the funds to arrive with the other solicitor.
1.4. The estate agents
If everyone's done their job promptly and proactively then funds should be sent by around 10-11am. If things get to 12pm and you've not heard anything all day it can be worth asking your solicitor to put a couple of phone calls in and see where things are up to.
You just want to make sure that the funds are on their way and that you're waiting on the banking system, and not still waiting on the solicitors to send the money.
1.5. The seller
Once the funds arrive with the seller's solicitor, completion has officially taken place.
The solicitors will speak with each other to confirm, and then they'll each call their client. (You'll receive a call from your solicitor, and the seller will receive a call from theirs). The solicitors will also notify the estate agent that completion has taken place.
"Your conveyancer will call you to tell you when your money has arrived – so you can get the keys and move in"
- Rightmove's Advice Center
At this point the seller just needs to hand the keys over so you can get moving. In theory they should do this straight away so that you can begin moving in as soon as completion takes place. (After all, it's your house now!). But this isn't actually the case, strictly speaking.
The seller actually has until 5pm on the day of completion to vacate the property. This can lead to a lot of hanging around (and a very late night). Fortunately this is usually quite rare. Most sellers will be just as keen to get onto their next home, and will usually already be packed up in the removal van. This means you can just collect the key and move in as soon as completion takes place.
We scoured Internet forums and dug up a couple of examples.
A discussion on Mumsnet.com covered what time you usually get the keys on completion date. Users chimed in with a couple of examples:
"Completion has always been around 12.30pm for us, but the last purchase it was almost 4pm. The seller was running out with arms full of clothes and throwing them in her car whilst we sat in the car!"
- FiveShelties on Mumsnet.com
And another one - this time with a seller breaching the terms of the sale:
“We got one key at 10am, but the previous owners didn’t actually vacate the house until gone 7pm, which I was really angry with.”
- soddingunicorns on Mumsnet.com
It's a good idea to coordinate with the seller before completion day. You can either do this directly or via your estate agent.
Just get a clear idea of when things are likely to happen, and what everyone's expectations and requirements are for completion day. This can help to reduce some of the stress and any disagreements on the day.
2. Can the sale fall through at the last minute?
The last thing you want to do in the run up to completion is think about the sale falling through. If it does, you can be right back to square one.
Fortunately, many sales exchange a few days before they complete.
If your sale has exchanged already, then the chance of it falling through are almost zero.
However, some sales/purchases will be structured in such a way that exchange and completion both take place on the same day. In this case, there's a risk that your sale could still fall through.
Here are a couple of articles worth reading if you're worried about this happening:
- What stages can a house sale fall through?
- What happens to your mortgage offer if your sale falls through?
If the worst does happen, there's also a solution that helps you get your chain back on track very quickly if it does fall through. You can get a cash offer from a house buying company within 24 hours, and they can generally complete on the purchase of your home within as little as 7 days.
Just be aware of the one significant downside with this method of sale: It comes with a compromise on the price. You'll likely sell for around 80-85% of the price you'd most recently agreed.
For some sellers, it's worth the compromise to make sure you don't miss out on your onward purchase.
It's fairly rare for a sale to fall through so close to the final hurdle, so hopefully you never have a need for it!
As we've covered, completion usually happens at around midday. However, there are a lot of moving pieces that can push that back. For example:
- If you're at the end of a lengthy chain, are completing on a Friday, and your solicitors haven't been the best then you should expect to complete later in the day. (Completion should still always happen no later than 4pm though).
- On the other hand, if you have a chain-free purchase with a reputable lender and your solicitors are both on the ball then you can expect to have the keys by around 12pm.
By Matthew Cooper, Founder of Home Selling Expert