What happens after seller signs contract?

When a seller signs a contract in the UK, particularly in the context of selling a property, a detailed process unfolds. This process involves several legal, administrative, and practical steps to ensure a smooth transfer of ownership from the seller to the buyer. Here is a comprehensive overview of what happens after the seller signs the contract, broken down into key stages:

1. Contract Exchange

The exchange of contracts is a critical step in the property sale process. Once both parties have signed the contract, they are legally bound to complete the transaction. Here’s what happens:

a. Legal Binding

  • Once the contracts are exchanged, both parties are legally committed to the sale. Neither party can back out without facing significant penalties, typically the loss of the deposit (for the buyer) or compensation for losses incurred (for the seller).

b. Deposit

  • The buyer usually pays a deposit, often 10% of the purchase price, which is held by the seller’s solicitor until completion.

c. Setting a Completion Date

  • A completion date is agreed upon, which is the date when the property ownership officially transfers to the buyer. This is typically 1-4 weeks after the exchange of contracts.

2. Pre-Completion Period

During this period, both parties prepare for the final transfer of ownership.

a. Final Checks and Searches

  • The buyer’s solicitor will conduct final searches to ensure there are no last-minute issues with the property, such as new planning applications or changes in the local area.

b. Mortgage Finalization

  • If the buyer is using a mortgage to finance the purchase, this period is used to finalize all mortgage arrangements and ensure funds will be available on the completion date.

c. Seller’s Obligations

  • The seller must ensure the property is in the agreed-upon condition. This includes resolving any agreed repairs and ensuring all agreed fixtures and fittings remain in place.

3. Completion Day

Completion day is when the legal ownership of the property is transferred to the buyer. The following steps occur on this crucial day:

a. Transfer of Funds

  • The buyer’s solicitor transfers the remaining purchase price to the seller’s solicitor. This often involves coordinating with the mortgage lender to release funds.

b. Transfer of Title

  • The seller’s solicitor ensures that the transfer deed is executed, transferring legal ownership to the buyer. This document is then sent to the Land Registry for registration.

c. Handover of Keys

  • Once the seller’s solicitor confirms receipt of the funds, the estate agent or seller hands over the keys to the buyer, granting them access to their new property.

4. Post-Completion Activities

After the completion day, there are several administrative tasks to be finalized.

a. Registration at the Land Registry

  • The buyer’s solicitor registers the new ownership with the Land Registry. This step updates the official records to reflect the change in ownership.

b. Stamp Duty Payment

  • The buyer must pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). This is often handled by the buyer’s solicitor.

c. Final Accounts

  • Both solicitors will settle their final accounts. The seller will receive the balance of the purchase price after deducting any outstanding mortgage and legal fees.

5. Seller’s Post-Sale Responsibilities

Even after the property sale is complete, the seller has a few ongoing responsibilities and potential issues to address.

a. Capital Gains Tax (CGT)

  • If the property is not the seller’s primary residence, they may be liable for CGT on any profit made from the sale. This must be reported and paid to HMRC.

b. Outstanding Debts or Liens

  • The seller should ensure that any outstanding debts secured against the property, such as a second mortgage or home equity loan, are settled.

c. Utility and Service Accounts

  • The seller should cancel or transfer utility accounts (electricity, water, gas, etc.) and other services (internet, phone, etc.) to avoid being charged for services after the sale.

6. Legal and Financial Considerations

Several legal and financial aspects need to be addressed throughout and after the sale process.

a. Solicitor’s Role

  • The solicitor plays a crucial role in ensuring all legal aspects of the sale are handled correctly. This includes drafting contracts, handling the exchange and completion processes, and ensuring all conditions are met.

b. Mortgage Redemption

  • If the property was under a mortgage, the seller’s solicitor will arrange to redeem (pay off) the mortgage from the sale proceeds. The lender will then provide a release of the mortgage charge.

c. Estate Agent Fees

  • The seller will need to pay the estate agent’s fees for their services in marketing the property and facilitating the sale. This is typically a percentage of the sale price.

7. Practical Considerations for the Seller

Beyond the legal and financial aspects, there are practical considerations the seller must handle.

a. Moving Out

  • The seller must move out of the property by the agreed completion date, ensuring all personal belongings are removed unless otherwise agreed upon.

b. Cleaning and Maintenance

  • It is customary for the seller to leave the property clean and in a reasonable state. Some sellers hire professional cleaning services to ensure the property is left in good condition.

c. Forwarding Address

  • The seller should provide a forwarding address to ensure that any post or important documents sent to the old address can be redirected.

8. Potential Issues and Resolutions

Despite careful planning, issues can arise during the sale process. Here’s how to handle some common problems:

a. Delays in Completion

  • If there are delays, it is crucial to communicate with all parties involved to resolve the issue. Penalty clauses for delayed completion are often included in the contract.

b. Discrepancies in Property Condition

  • If the buyer finds that the property condition does not match the contract stipulations, they may seek compensation or remedial work from the seller.

c. Financial Issues

  • If the buyer encounters financial difficulties, such as problems with their mortgage, it may delay completion. Both solicitors will work to resolve these issues, which might involve renegotiating timelines or, in worst-case scenarios, finding a new buyer.


The process of selling a property in the UK involves several stages, each with its own set of tasks and responsibilities. From the moment the contract is signed to the final completion and beyond, both the seller and the buyer, along with their respective solicitors, must navigate legal, financial, and practical challenges to ensure a successful transaction.

By understanding and preparing for each step, sellers can help ensure a smoother, more efficient sale process. This includes working closely with solicitors, managing timelines, and being prepared to address any issues that may arise. Proper preparation and clear communication are key to navigating the complexities of property transactions in the UK.

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