What to do if your seller hasn’t moved out on completion day

Q. I completed on a property last week, but the previous owner was still moving his belongings out at 7:30pm that night, meaning me and my family couldn’t move in. What are my rights?

A: This is an incredibly frustrating situation which does, unfortunately, happen. Where a property is in a chain – i.e. the seller is moving out on the same day that you need to move in – it’s always a good idea to call the estate agent to coordinate removal companies, so that both parties are aware of each other’s timings.

From a legal perspective, under standard conditions of sale, the latest time a seller should vacate a property is 2pm. This time can be changed in the contract and will be agreed between the solicitors before contracts are exchanged. So, as the buyer, you should have checked what the agreed cut off time was and, if the seller was in breach of this (which at 7:30pm he definitely was) then you can notify your solicitor. At this point, your solicitor should have called and emailed the seller’s solicitor.

Technically, you would have been in a position to charge interest as the seller was in breach of contract by not vacating in the specified time. Interest is usually charged at 4% above base so, with today’s base rate of 0.5%, the interest would be calculated as 4.5% of the total purchase price on a pro-rata daily basis. You could potentially have demanded damages as well, such as extra removal costs and so on.

In reality, it can be difficult to actually receive the interest and damages as the seller needs to agree to the payment. Some sellers will be absolutely upstanding about it and allow their solicitor to deduct interest from their completion funds, if their solicitor hasn’t yet released them to the seller. Other sellers, however, may refuse to do this, and the buyer would need to pursue the amount through the courts. This is something most buyers don’t do as the court costs would probably exceed the amount being claimed.

If you have a question you’d like Jo to answer please email @Jo.eccles@eccord.com or tweet her @joeccles.