We have bought a house but the owner has not moved out yet

The owner is buying another house and is experiencing delays. What can I do?

You cannot simply take possession and change the locks. Photograph: iStock

Have you ever come across a delay getting the former owners out after the contracts have been signed and the handover date agreed?

I have a scenario where the owner is purchasing another house and is experiencing delays.

Can I just change the locks and remove their possessions if they won’t leave on time?

While your situation is indeed frustrating, you cannot simply take possession and change the locks. The title of the property and therefore your rights over that property do not pass from the previous owners to you until the full purchase monies have transferred and both solicitors confirm to each other that the sale has completed.


To have contracts signed is merely a formal intention of both parties that the sale will complete. The closing date in the contract does not entitle you to take possession, even if the date has passed and the sale has not completed.

Arranging and sticking to closing dates is one of the most difficult aspects of “chain” sales, even if all parties are aware of the scenario in advance. In certain circumstances, there is an option whereby your solicitor can serve a 28-day completion notice upon the sellers, but in order to do this the closing date set out in the contract must have passed, and there must be no conditions attached to that closing date in the first place

The key here is establishing via your solicitor firstly the precise status of the contracts – are they signed and exchanged, or only signed by one party and not the other? – and secondly if any conditions are attached to that contract surrounding the closing date.

Frequently, solicitors acting for clients in the middle of a chain (in other words, selling and buying) will have a special clause in the contract for the sale of the house whereby the closing date is dependent on the purchase of the next house. I suspect you might be in this scenario, whereby your sellers were aware in advance of contracts issuing to you that they were attempting an onward purchase to coincide with their sale and that this was reflected in the contracts.

Unfortunately, this weakens your position in attempting to force the completion date. Unless there was no condition attached to the completion date, you will need to decide if you are prepared to live with the uncertainty and attempt to resolve the matter by negotiation.

You should speak with the selling agent to see if he/she can shed any light on the circumstances; perhaps there will be no significant delay in your sellers’ onward purchase, and my own experience is that these matters usually get resolved quite quickly in the end.

Ed Carey is a chartered residential agency surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie, and the Property Services Regulatory Authority. Views expressed here are given in a personal capacity and are not those of the PSRA