What happens on completion day?

(Last Updated: 10/06/2024)
12 min read
Key Takeaways
  • Completion day is the final step in the process of buying or selling a house. The money is transferred, the seller must vacate the property and give the buyer the keys so that they can move in. The buyers solicitor will register the legal change in ownership at the Land Registry.
  • Completion day is usually moving day, but if you are not in a chain, you might choose to move in later.
  • You cannot pick up your keys until the money has been transferred and the sellers solicitor confirms completion.
  • There is lots of legal work to be finalised by both sides' solicitors, to complete each link in the chain.
  • Longer chains mean more risk of delay, the further down the chain you are.
  • Failing to complete before 4pm will have legal consequences, but most failed completions go ahead the following day.

What happens on completion day of any house or flat sale is the same, however there are a number of things that can go wrong or that cause delays leading to you not moving in until late in the day, or sometimes not at all. On the day of completion the buyer's solicitor sends the balance of the purchase price to the seller's solicitor (as 10% deposit is normally paid on exchange of contracts). Once received the seller's solicitor releases the keys to the buyer.

Do I need to do anything on completion day?

Completion day for the buyer

  • Pay - Your solicitor transfers the final funds to the seller's solicitor. Once they confirm receipt, your purchase is official.
  • Keys - You collect the keys from the estate agent, or seller.
  • Move - You're ready to move in.

Completion day for the seller

  • Move - You must leave the property vacant (unless you're selling with tenants) usually, you can be charged for the cost of storing or removing anything you leave behind, including rubbish.
  • Money - Your solicitor will tell you when the money has been received, if you are in a chain, they'll send your purchase money on to your seller's solicitor.
  • Keys - You hand your keys over to the new owner, if they're not with the estate agent already.

This is the basics, but there's lots more details to remember:

How to make things run smoother on completion day

Keep in touch with your solicitor and your seller to plan ahead and line up your removals. Arrange your utilities switchover and make sure that you're all packed up and the house is clean ahead of completion day. Have all of your paperwork in order and your completion money all in one account ready to send to your solicitor, first thing.

Use our completion day checklist to make sure you're fully prepared for the big day, and you don't forget anything.

What happens ahead of completion day?

Completion day is a busy day, so solicitors on both sides will have as much prepped as possible. The buyer's solicitor will check that all the lender's conditions have been met and draw down your the mortgage money, ready to pay on completion day.

If the seller has a mortgage, their solicitor will request a redemption certificate calculated to the planned completion date, ready to redeem the mortgage on receipt of the proceeds. Both sides create completion statements with all payments to date and invoices to be paid on the day.

Completion Day Timeline


    Both solicitors carry out their final checks before the buyers solicitor transfers the money to seller, via CHAPS online banking system.


    Buyer's solicitor receives mortgage money and the balance to complete from the buyer.


    Buyer's solicitor sends the completion monies to the seller's solicitor.


    Seller's solicitor confirms completion and releases the keys to the buyer, who can now move in.


    Seller's solicitor pays off the seller's mortgage debt and signs off the completion statement, they'll also pay the seller's estate agent and any other charges.


    If the seller is buying another property, their solicitor can now pay in the completion money on the next property in the chain.

Most completion days go through with no issue; however, there are a few avoidable pitfalls that can go wrong on completion day, which can be tense, frustrating and ultimately expensive. Read on to find out the time you are like likely to complete and what will happen if you miss the completion deadline.

How long does completion take?

It usually takes about 2 weeks from exchange to completion, with notice to complete being served in between, usually 10 days before completion. If you do not complete within the timeframe specified in the notice to complete then there will be legal consequences.

How far in advance do you know completion date?

You'll agree the completion date at exchange of contracts, in some cases you might pre-agree to exchange and complete on the same day, but you might set a completion date anything up to three months in advance, if you have the agreement of any other buyers in the chain. If you are buying a new build, you will only get two weeks notice to complete, from the developers.

What time do you get keys on completion day?

Under the terms of your contract, you'll usually get the keys between 1pm and 4pm, but no later as we'll explain below. The actual time when your seller releases the keys will depend on how long a chain you have:

  • 9am to 11am - First buyer in chain collects keys.
  • 11am to 12pm - Second buyer in chain collects keys.
  • 12pm to 1pm - Third buyer in chain collects keys.
  • 1pm to 2pm - Fourth buyer in chain collects keys.

Although the above timelines are fairly accurate for real-life transactions, under the contract terms, the seller usually has until 1 pm to vacate the property (sometimes 2pm if you have a long chain). Most sellers will release the keys on receipt of the funds to keep the chain happy; however, if they are still packing on the day of the move they will instruct their solicitor not to complete or release the keys until they are ready.

Do you have to pick up keys on completion date?

No, you can pick the keys up on the day of completion or after. You won't be able to pick them up before completion. There is no legal reason why you have to collect the keys on the completion date, however there are reasons why you should:

  • You need to take meter readings for gas, electrics and water;
  • You need to ensure the property is vacant and all fittings and contents removed; and
  • You need to ensure the property is secure following the seller's vacation.

Can anything go wrong on completion day?

No matter how well prepared you and your solicitor may be, human error and systematic hiccups can cause delays on completion day:

What can cause delays on the day of completion?

The most common reasons for delays on the day of completion are:

Delay on Completion
What can you do?
No mortgage advance
If your solicitor hasn't received your mortgage funds then they cannot complete. Bank send large batches of bank transfers and yours may be sat in the catch to be sent later in the day.

The simple solution is to have mortgage funds released day before completion. You pay interest on the mortgage from the date sent, but you'll be happier to complete earlier than be sat waiting for your mortgage money to be sent.

No money from your buyer
If your solicitor hasn't' received the completion money from your related sale, then your onward purchase cannot complete.

Money might be in the system, however, on the day of completion a CHAPS is only guaranteed to be received that day so although some turn up within a few minutes, some bank transfers are delayed by hours.

No Signed Documents
If your solicitor hasn't' received originals of your mortgage or transfer deed then completion cannot take place.

What happens on completion day if completion money is received after 4pm?

4pm is the cut-off time for most solicitors to be able to complete because the CHAPS banking system closes down.

If the completion monies are received by the seller's solicitors later in the day, they may not have enough time to redeem their mortgage on the property. In cases like this, it is common for the seller's solicitor not to complete, and the buyer won't be given access to the property.

By this time, the seller's solicitor should have already served notice to complete on the buyer's solicitor, and the buyer will be liable for the cost of the notice fee, interest and any other delayed completion compensation (removal fees, hotel costs, storage fees, etc.). Completion will occur the next working day (which could be Monday if you fail to complete it on Friday).

There are occasions where the solicitors will agree with the chain for everyone to move into their new property 'under licence' until completion formally takes place. This can only happen if the seller has received the completion monies from the buyer but isn't able to settle their mortgage and complete. The buyer is still likely to be served notice by the seller's solicitor, however they will be able to move into their new property.

How long does it take for money to transfer on completion day?

CHAPS transfers are fairly instant when actioned by the solicitor, and clear in a matter of hours.

What happens if you don't complete on the completion day?

As detailed above, notice is served and the buyer has 10 working days to complete the purchase.

The majority of failed completions complete the next working day.

What are the costs of not completing on your completion day?

The late completion costs are:

  • Contract interest on the purchase price (normally 4% on top of the Bank of England Base Rate);
  • Notice to complete legal fees; and
  • Seller/buyer's foreseeable costs/out-of-pocket expenses (removal fees, hotel fees)

What is the property price?
What deposit did you pay on exchange?
What is the interest rate you're paying at?
4% above the base rate of 5.25%.
Amount to pay interest on
Annual Interest Fee
Estimated Daily Payment
Late Completion Calculator
For interest due to the seller.

Late Completion Fee Calculator from SAM Conveyancing

How to calculate the daily rate of interest for late completion

If the property value is £250,000 and you paid a 10% deposit on exchange but fail to complete it on the day of completion, you'll be liable to pay interest on the £225,000 at a rate of 4% above the Bank of England base rate of 5.25%.

Completion day checklist

Download these free PDF checklists to make sure you've got everything in hand for your smoothest completion day.


Exchange of Contracts


Completion Day Checklist


Pre-Exchange Checklist

Frequently Asked Questions
Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Written by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands-on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.
Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
Reviewed by:

Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.

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