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Continuing my series on little-known and creative killer property strategies, I now look at delayed completion – the strategy in which the buyer and the seller both agree a delay in completion, enabling the buyer to carry out value-adding building works after exchange of contracts and before completion. 

In Killer Property Strategies I, I looked at (1) options and (2) bridging loans. In KPS II, I considered (1) seller assistance and (2) buy to split. In KPS III, I looked at rent to buy.

Killer Property Strategy IV – Delayed Completion

Delayed completion is perhaps most popular when the property market is weak and properties are difficult to sell. However, it may appeal (at any point in the market cycle) to a seller with a tired or rundown property which is proving hard to off-load.    

1. What is delayed completion?

There are various situations in which legal completion of a sale is delayed. Normally completion takes place a week or two after exchange of contracts.

Delayed completion can be unplanned  – such as when a buyer is unable to provide the balance of purchase price needed to complete a purchase.

There are several instances in which delayed completion is planned. This blog is concerned with just one such instance – where the point of the delay is to enable the buyer to add value to the property in advance of completion. 

Contracts are exchanged, a deposit is paid and completion takes place typically 3-12 months from exchange, during which time the buyer carries out building works. 

Ideally a seller will want to find a buyer who can complete in the usual timescale of a week or two – enabling them to receive the sale proceeds promptly. However, when the property market is depressed or the property is in a bad condition or requires substantial works, a delayed completion period may suit both parties.


Upon completion, the buyer has a good quality property which is ready for mortgaging, selling or, perhaps more commonly, renting. The seller gets a sale which may otherwise be unobtainable.

2. Key features of a delayed completion 

The key legal elements of a delayed completion deal will be:

  • Contracts are exchanged in the normal way with a deposit paid
  • The period from exchange to completion is the period of time agreed by buyer and seller, giving the buyer sufficient time to carry out planned works
  • If buying with a mortgage, the buyer should ideally make mortgage arrangements prior to exchanging contracts.

This type of strategy probably works best where the buyer and the seller are property investors. It helps if both parties are commercially-minded and flexible in terms of agreeing contractual terms which can cope with most eventualities. 

As the transaction is pretty much a regular sale with a delayed completion date, the usual legal formalities on a sale will apply – with each party instructing their own solicitor. 

A seller will normally want a deposit of 10% of the price. However, the buyer will have more working capital to carry out building works if they can reduce the deposit to say 5%.

As this strategy is non-standard and risk-laden, it is important to instruct solicitors who are familiar with the strategy and strong on the drafting of contracts.

3. Advantages – seller

Delayed completion has several advantages for the seller including:

  • A chance to sell during a property crash, where the market is very poor, or where the property requires major works before being mortgageable
  • A chance to earn more than they would earn on the open market,  if such a deal can be done with the buyer
  • A chance to gain or benefit where there are practical, business or tax reasons for delaying completion. 
4. Advantages – buyer

The advantages of delayed completion for the buyer include:

  • An opportunity to buy a property where value can be added
  • Control of the property is achieved by payment of the deposit, which could be as little as 5% of the purchase price
  • Value can be added prior to completion, resulting in a higher value asset on completion
  • Can line up a tenant to move in on completion of the works without a void period
  • In an escalating market, the general value may increase from exchange to completion – especially if it is a long period, such as 6 months or more
  • Depending on the circumstances, the buyer may be able to take out at a later date the money they invested; for instance, by mortgaging or re-mortgaging the property.   
5. The risks

There are risks associated with the strategy for both sides. Greatest risk probably lies with the buyer. Risks the buyer may face include:

  • Having their mortgage withdrawn after exchange of contracts and being compelled to secure another mortgage
  • Over-estimating the value of the property upon completion of works and thereby paying over the odds
  • Agreeing a price in a falling market and unwittingly paying too much
  • If selling on, failing to sell as quickly as anticipated, incurring greater costs than calculated    making losses or lower profits as a result.

The buyer will need to insure the building from exchange of contracts and should ensure that the building works are fully insured.

The buyer could face a number of problematic legal and practical issues if the seller went into liquidation or became bankrupt before completion.

For the seller, the main worry is the buyer causing damage to or destruction of the property and not being willing or able to put things right.

If the property is mortgaged, the seller needs to check that the delayed completion arrangement is not in breach of their mortgage agreement.

The longer the period from exchange to completion, the greater the  risk of something going wrong for either or both parties. Generally, the shorter the delay, the better for both sides. 

6. Conclusion

This is a strategy which is not common. It is a challenging strategy for someone new to property.

It is not ideal for all market conditions and is at its most appealing when the property market is on its knees and sellers are desperate to sell.

The positive for the seller is the chance to get a buyer when the market is dead.


A buyer can minimise risk by looking for commercially-minded sellers, preferably people they know, and with whom they can prepare a fair-to-both-sides flexible agreement able to cope with the unexpected.

In addition, both buyer and seller are likely to benefit if prior to proceeding with the strategy they speak to property people or experts with experience of its finer points.    

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Dalton Barrett
Rebel Property Coach

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