So, you’ve accepted a great offer on your house, made plans for moving on — maybe you’re selling up to buy a new home? — and you’re impatient to keep things moving forwards. But, the person who is buying your house suddenly says they want to slow everything down. What can you do?
If your home buyer wants to delay completion and this will cause you problems, there are a few things you can do.
What is Completion?
Completion is the last step in the house selling process, and it usually takes place around one to two weeks after the exchange of contracts, which is when the completion date is agreed upon.
The seller must vacate the property and hand the keys over to the buyer and the buyer must pay all the outstanding money required to purchase the property on the completion date.
Why Might a Home Buyer Want to Delay Completion?
The buyer is awaiting planning permission for renovations
If your buyer wants to make significant changes to the property, they may try to delay completion until they have the necessary planning permission. They will not want to be stuck as the legal owners of a property that they cannot adapt to meet their needs.
There have been delays further down the buyers’ property chain
If your buyer is part of a property chain, where multiple house sales depend on one another, a delay further down the chain could impact your sale. For example, if your buyer is selling their home to buy yours and their completion date is pushed back, this may, in turn, force your buyer to request a new completion date. Many buyers need the proceeds from their own house sale to fund the purchase of a new home.
Your buyer is relocating from abroad.
If your buyer is currently living abroad, they may try to delay completion until they have moved back to the UK. If there are complications with their return to the country, this could add further delays.
There are financing issues.
Something unexpected may happen that restricts or delays the buyer’s access to the funds they need to buy the property. For example, if you’ve landed a cash buyer and an emergency arises that diverts their capital elsewhere, they may not have the cash flow to pay the balance due on completion.
A change in personal circumstances
Although there is typically just one or two weeks between exchange and completion, unforeseen changes in your buyer’s personal circumstances could result in a request to delay completion. For example, if there is a relationship breakdown and one person wishes to delay completion while they wait to find out if they can afford the necessary mortgage on one income.
A clash of commitments
Your buyer may have certain commitments that lead them to request a later completion date. For example, if they are relocating for work and their start date changes or they have children and decide to push their moving day back until the school term ends.
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It’s not always the buyer who delays completion. The seller may have reasons to push the date back too:
- They are buying a new build home and the construction is delayed.
- They are struggling to find a new home to buy and need more time to house hunt.
- They are buying a rental property and need to wait for the tenants’ lease to end.
Why Does a Delay Between Exchange and Completion Cause Problems?
Unexpected costs for the seller
The seller is legally obligated to ensure that their property is in the same state on the day of completion as it was when they exchanged contracts with the buyer. The longer the gap between exchange and completion, the more chance that maintenance and repair issues will arise. The seller will be responsible for completing and paying for any necessary work.
The seller may change their mind
In England, once contracts are exchanged on a property, both parties are legally bound to complete the sale. However, if the buyer causes significant and unreasonable delays, they may try to return the deposit and withdraw from the sale.
The buyer’s mortgage offer may expire
Most mortgage providers put an expiry date on their mortgage offer of around three to six months. If completion is seriously delayed, the property’s value may have changed and it may be necessary for the buyer to make a new mortgage application. Not only will this delay the sale further, but there is always the risk that the application will not be successful.
If you want to avoid delays when selling your property, download our guide, “10 Ways to Sell Your House Fast in 2021”
What Can You Do if Your Buyer Delays Completion?
As the seller, there are a few things you can do to try to speed up completion:
Speak to your solicitor
As soon as there are signs that the buyer may be stalling, speak to your solicitor or conveyancer. Your legal representative will give you advice about your legal position and liaise with the buyer’s solicitor to help get things moving.
Keep your estate agent informed
If you’re using an estate agent to sell your house, they’ll be taking a significant commission for doing so. It is part of their responsibilities to keep things running smoothly, so let the estate agent know if you are having difficulties keeping the buyer on track for the agreed completion date. A failed sale means no commission for them, so they have a strong incentive for helping you to resolve the issue.
Ensure you’ve upheld your side of the bargain
Make sure that there are no grounds for complaints from the buyer. Complete all the required paperwork and be prepared to vacate the property, taking all your belongings with you on the agreed date. Don’t give the buyer an opportunity to claim that the delay is due to your actions or lack of action.
Serve a completion notice
As a last resort, if the buyer prevents completion from going ahead on the agreed date, you can ask your solicitor to serve a completion notice or “notice to complete”. This typically requires the buyer to complete within ten working days of being served. The buyer may also be required to pay interest until completion takes place. Both parties will move on the day that the balance is paid.
If the buyer fails to complete within ten days, your solicitor will advise you on the next steps, which may include the option to withdraw from the sale and claim for any costs incurred.