Ready to move but our seller vanishes

Our lawyer, Fiona McNulty, answers your questions
Question: We’re ready to move in a week into a house we’ve bought. Contracts have been exchanged and completion has been agreed so we’re all set — but we haven’t been able to contact the seller.

Providing completion has taken place, if we turn up at the new house without keys next week, would we be within our rights to call a locksmith to gain access?

New owner knocking on the door of house
© Merrily Harpur

Answer: If it is only you who cannot contact the sellers that does not necessarily mean the sale cannot be completed. Whether or not the sellers still wish to complete the sale, or whether they are now refusing to do so, must be considered by their solicitors.

In readiness for completion the sellers’ solicitors must possess a transfer deed executed by their clients, which they send to your solicitors once they have received the funds from them to complete the sale. Provided the sellers’ solicitors have this important document and their clients’ instructions to discharge any mortgages and complete the transaction, then the sale can take place and the sellers’ solicitors will authorise the release of keys to you.

If the sellers haven’t left keys to be released to you and no one can contact them, then you are in a risky situation. If the sellers and any occupiers of the property have not vacated and/or their possessions are still in the property, if you break in you are at risk of liability and becoming an involuntary bailee of any goods left. You must take your solicitors’ advice but do proceed with caution — take a witness along.

If the sellers’ solicitors have been unable to contact their clients and are without instructions, then they cannot complete the sale to you and your solicitors will serve a completion notice.

The sellers will be in breach of contract. You can either seek a court order requiring the sellers to perform their obligation to give vacant possession, or pursue them for the return of your deposit and your other losses, but you must not force entry into the property.

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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, email legalsolutions@standard.co.uk. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually.

Fiona is a partner in the residential real estate team at Thring LLP (www.thrings.com).

These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.

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