Your Home, Your Handover: A Homebuyer’s Perspective On The UK Property Market

A Metal Gate On A Concrete House

Buying a home is one of the most significant financial decisions most people will make in their lifetime. When you decide to take the plunge into homeownership, you want the process to go as smoothly as possible. One of the key steps in the home-buying process is the period between exchanging contracts and completing the purchase. This time allows both buyers and sellers to prepare for the final handover. For buyers especially, understanding what happens during this period can help reduce stress and ensure you’re ready when moving day arrives.

Exchanging Contracts – Entering the Final Stages

Exchanging contracts represents a major milestone in the home-buying process. Up until this point, either the buyer or seller could pull out of the transaction without legal consequences. However, once contracts have been exchanged, both parties are legally committed to completing the purchase. This gives buyers and sellers assurance that the deal will go ahead.

In England, there is no set timeframe for how long the process takes between exchanging contracts and completing them. It’s down to the specifics agreed upon in the contract. However, most exchanges and completions happen simultaneously or within 1-4 weeks. Your solicitor will discuss expected timescales when exchanging. Be sure to ask questions so you understand when completion will happen. This allows you to effectively plan your move.

Using The Exchange Period To Get Organised

For buyers, the weeks between exchange and completion are crucial preparation times. During this period, you need to get organised and ready for your upcoming move. Here are some key ways to use this window:

  • Arrange Removal Services – Once you have a set completion date, you can confirm your moving company’s availability. Give them as much notice as possible, especially during busy periods like summer. Make sure you understand all costs and get assurances about their availability before exchange.
  • Notify Utilities and Services – Contact utility companies, banks, subscription services etc. to notify them of your upcoming change of address. Make a list of all the accounts and providers you need to update. This will ensure continuity of service.
  • Plan Renovations – If you hope to renovate before moving in, now is the time to get quotes and confirm work schedules. But be cautious about starting work before completion in case there are any delays.
  • Deep Clean Your Old Home – Give your current home a thorough clean before moving out. This includes carpets, windows, kitchen, bathrooms and any storage/garages. Your estate agent can provide tips on preparing your property for rental or sale.
  • Pack in Stages – Start packing non-essentials like books, decorations and off-season clothes. Breaking packing down into stages makes the process less overwhelming. Just be sure valuables and essentials are kept separate until moving day.
  • Change Addresses – Notify your bank, doctor, dentist, work contacts and any relevant people or companies that you are moving. Get your mail redirected through the Post Office too. Stay on top of notifications to ensure a smooth transition.

Can You Move Into Your New Home Before Completion?

Legally, buyers are not allowed to move their belongings into the property or take up residence before completion. You do not officially own the property until this point. Moving in early also presents liability issues if any damage or accidents occur.

However, some sellers may allow limited access for certain tasks like measuring rooms, having appliances delivered or doing minor finish work. But this must be explicitly agreed upon in writing before exchange. Both parties need to be comfortable with the arrangements.

If you do get early access, take reasonable care such as:

  • Only visiting at reasonable hours and with the seller’s supervision
  • Avoiding making any structural changes before completion
  • Keeping valuables and pets away until completion day
  • Staying out of the seller’s way as they make their moving preparations

Early access can help buyers feel more prepared. But make sure your rights and responsibilities are clear to avoid problems before completion.

Completion Day – Taking Ownership

Completion day is an exciting milestone for any homebuyer. It signifies the day you can finally take possession of your new property. On completion day:

  • Your solicitor will send the remaining balance owed on the property to the seller’s solicitors. This must be received before midday.
  • The seller’s solicitors will authorise the release of the keys once the funds clear.
  • You take ownership and get the keys on the completion date outlined in your contract – this is usually around lunchtime.
  • The seller vacates the property and you can move in!

To ensure the handover goes smoothly:

  • Keep your solicitor informed – Let them know about any delays in receiving the keys or accessing the property. They can resolve issues on your behalf.
  • Have all payments ready – Make sure outstanding balances and fees are paid on time so there are no hold-ups.
  • Be flexible – Delays or issues can arise even late in the process. Be patient and be prepared to be flexible if needed.
  • Make moving day plans – Have your removal team ready and waiting to begin moving you in. Book cleaners or helpers if needed. Stock up on food and supplies.
  • Do a thorough property inspection – Walk through the property and check for any damage, mess or issues. Report any problems immediately.
  • Keep paperwork safe – Make copies and file away important documents like contracts, warranties, instruction manuals etc.

While the lead-up can be stressful, take time on completion day to celebrate your achievement! Enjoy exploring your new home and neighbourhood.

Factors That Can Delay Completion

While most property purchases go smoothly, unexpected issues can sometimes delay completions. Common factors include:

  • Mortgage or payment issues – Problems with financing, late transfers of funds or errors can prevent key payments from being made on time.
  • Problems with the property – Unsatisfactory property inspections or last-minute repairs needed can delay the seller from vacating on time.
  • Legal complications – Errors in paperwork, fraud checks, or title issues could hold up the legal process near completion.
  • Change of circumstances – Life events like illnesses, pregnancies, births or deaths can affect contracts if they occur after exchange.
  • Poor communication – When updates and information fall through the cracks between solicitors, progress can stall.
  • COVID-19 restrictions – Precautions like quarantines and limited business operations can slow paperwork and processes.

If completion is delayed, your solicitor can advise on any provisions in your contract and whether you have grounds for compensation. Be patient and remain flexible – in most cases, it will just result in a short delay until any issues get resolved.

Key Steps For Safe Handover And Moving Home

On the day you finally get the keys, the seller will hand over the property and provide instructions. To ensure a smooth transition:

  • Collect All Documentation – Make sure you receive any warranties, instruction manuals, appliance service records etc. Also, get copies of current utility bills to make service transfers easier.
  • Record Meter Readings – Note down readings for gas, electricity and water meters on the day you move in. This ensures you don’t end up paying the seller’s outstanding charges.
  • Test Appliances & Systems – Switch on heating systems, check pipe pressure, turn on taps, and test any white goods left behind. Check inventory lists against what was agreed upon.
  • Get All Keys – You should receive at minimum two sets of keys for all exterior doors. Ask about any garage keys, gate fobs or common area fobs as well.
  • Clarify Maintenance Responsibilities – Understand arrangements for future maintenance of any shared or external spaces. Who handles issues like roof repairs or garden upkeep?
  • Clean Before Moving In – Do a thorough cleaning of the entire property, including carpets and windows, to freshen it up before moving your items.
  • Consider a Professional Deep Clean – For extra peace of mind, consider hiring professional cleaners to thoroughly disinfect all kitchens, bathrooms, walls and floors before move-in.
  • Check for Damage – Do one final inspection of all rooms to check for any unreported damage or mess left behind. Take photos and contact your solicitor if any issues arise.

Following these tips will help ensure the seller hands over the property in acceptable condition. You can then move in and start enjoying your new home!

Making The Property Your Own

After the stress of the buying process and moving day, you’ll likely want to put your stamp on your new home. Here are ideas to make it feel like home:

Update Interior Decor – Paint walls in your colour scheme, change handles and knobs, replace curtains or blinds and decorate to your style.

Landscape Yard and Gardens – Tidy up, plant flowers and shrubs you prefer, and create cosy outdoor living spaces.

Make Improvements – Do renovations like new flooring, fixtures, lighting or layout changes to suit your needs.

Configure Smart Tech – Install home tech like smart lighting, thermostats, security systems and assistants to add convenience.

Unpack Slowly – Live in the home a bit before deciding where to best place furniture and belongings.

Learn Appliances – Read manuals and watch tutorials to optimise new appliances and features.

Meet the Neighbours – Introduce yourself to neighbours and get insights about the community.

Update Records – Change your address on legal documents, update insurance policies and extend coverage.

Personalising your new place helps make it feel like home. Take it slowly and let your style develop organically over time. Soon you’ll feel settled and comfortable in your new surroundings.

Seeking Support For A Smooth Transition

Buying a home and moving is universally stressful. You don’t need to navigate it alone. Seek help from

  • Estate agents – They can provide area guides, reviews of services, contractor recommendations and tips to settle in.
  • Removal companies – Take advantage of any unpacking services offered. They can also provide storage solutions if needed during renovation.
  • Cleaning services – Hire professional deep cleaning services before move-in for peace of mind.
  • Friends and family – Don’t be shy to ask for help packing, moving furniture and unpacking boxes. Feed them well in return!
  • Local Facebook groups – Join community groups to find recommendations from actual residents and meet neighbours.
  • Your employer – If relocating for work, ask about allowances for home set-up costs and relocation assistance.

You’ve made a major investment in your new home. Surround yourself with support to protect that investment and make the transition as smooth as possible.

Homeownership – Enjoy The Journey Ahead!

The period between exchange and completion is often a question on the minds of homebuyers: how long between exchange and completion? While this journey can indeed be lengthy, the rewards of homeownership undoubtedly make it a worthwhile one. Transitioning into your new home is an exciting journey filled with opportunities to personalise your space, learn its unique characteristics, and create cherished memories.

It’s essential to be financially prepared for any unexpected repairs or maintenance that may arise. Building a local support network can also be immensely beneficial in helping you settle into your new community. Taking good care of your home by keeping it clean, safe, and well-maintained is essential to protect your investment.

Homebuying can be complex, but the sense of security, stability, and pride that comes with owning your own space makes every effort worthwhile. Embrace the journey ahead, and congratulations on achieving the dream of homeownership!

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