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Information for Sellers

The process of selling a property

Below you’ll find a quick rundown of the process of selling a property, the key stages and advice on what to expect…

Once you’ve decided to sell your home, you’ll need to speak to your mortgage lender (if you have one) to let them know your plans.

Find out the balance on your outstanding mortgage and, if you plan to purchase a new home at the same time, whether you can ‘port it’ (which essentially means you take it with you).

If you can’t port it, you need to watch out for early repayment charges which could stand at between 1% and 5% of the remainder of your mortgage, making moving very costly. So, calculations like these are a vital first step.

You’ll also need to do some research on how much your current home might sell for… And you can get an INSTANT VALUATION HERE

With so much to think about in terms of your finances, it may be worth seeking help from an independent mortgage broker who can help you do the maths. This can be particularly helpful if you are both selling and buying.

Unless you’re a first-time buyer, one of the key decisions you need to make is whether to try and sell and buy at the same time. If you do this, you risk ending up in a chain, which can slow things down considerably.

Here are some tips on how to stop a property chain collapsing.

The alternative is to rent for a period while you sell, but before going down this route, you need to weigh up the pros and cons.

Renting will make the sales process easier as you won’t have to contend with the complications of being in a chain, but it could be costly.

Once you’ve made the decision to sell your house or flat, you need to get it ready first for the estate agents to value it – and then for potential house-hunters to view it. Here’s how to do the best job when it comes to presentation.

  • De-clutter and de-personalise

Start your big clear-out well before viewings begin. And when you’ve given away, sold or recycled all you can, hide as much of what’s left as possible.

This means clearing coats and shoes from the hallway, storing everyday bathroom products in cupboards and ridding kitchen surfaces of appliances, jars and bottles.

Buyers will need to visualise themselves in your home, so you could even go one stage further by putting away personal effects such as ornaments, photographs and kids’ drawings.

  • Spruce up the decor 

When your home is as empty as it practically can be, give it a fresh coat of neutral paint and get any dirty tiling re-grouted. If your kitchen is old, you don’t necessarily need a new one. Replacing cupboard doors – or even just door handles – can make a huge difference.

Be wary of doing major work on just one room though, as it will show how much the other rooms need attention by contrast.

Make sure all spotlights and other light bulbs are working, present the beds nicely and add some plants in bare corners for a homely feel.

  • Deep-clean

A deep-clean of your home by a professional cleaning company, which tackles ovens, shower doors and underneath sofas, makes a huge difference – and could be cheaper than you think.

  • Give the garden some love

Don’t forget about the garden. Make sure both front and back yards are cut back and tidy, fix and repaint gates and fences and give the patio a blast with a pressure washer. You can even position a table and chairs in a spot where buyers can envisage having a morning coffee.

  • Hand over your parking space

If your home comes with an allocated parking space, leave it free for prospective buyers to use. It’s convenient and offers an experience that’s closer to the reality of what it’s like to live in your home.

Most people are familiar with the concept of getting a survey carried out on a property they are looking to buy.

But commissioning a survey on your own property before putting it on the market could also be a good idea.

Bear in mind this doesn’t always need to be a full-blown HomeBuyer Report or Building Survey. You may be able to get cheaper surveys carried out just to investigate a specific problem.

Here’s a host of scenarios where some type of survey could be worth the money.

  • You suspect Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed is an extremely fast-growing and destructive plant which can damage house foundations, drainage systems and walls. Bad cases of it can leave your home essentially un-mortgageable.

If you suspect its existence on or near your property, get a professional survey done. Costs start at around £240 plus VAT.

Find out more with our Japanese Knotweed Q&A

  • There are signs of subsidence

Cracks in your walls, typically those that are more than 3mm wide and larger at the top of the wall, could be a sign of subsidence which occurs when the ground below your property moves and affects its stability.

Over time, this can cause serious structural damage.

Many insurance companies will refuse to insure a property with subsidence – making it a major turn-off for potential buyers.

In this case a full Building Survey, which could cost between £600 and £1,000, could be worth the money. If it turns up a subsidence problem, you may want to look at ways to deal with the issue, such as underpinning, before putting your home up for sale.

Note, however, that fixing the problem can be a long and costly process.

  • You can see or smell damp

If you’ve got the odd damp patch on the ceiling or if there is a musty smell in your home, this could be an indication of a wider damp problem. A damp proofing expert can come and take a look for as little as £100.

Some forms of damp can be easily and cheaply fixed, while others can be costly to put right. For example, a damp course for an average three-bedroom house could cost around £4,000.

But it’s better to find out yourself that you have a major damp problem before it is uncovered by a potential buyer.

  • You’re aware of dry rot

Dry rot is a type of fungus that can weaken the timber within a property and spread rapidly.

By getting a specialist rot expert to check out your home using tools such as moisture meters, you can confirm the scale of the problem – and then the best course of treatment.

In serious cases, ridding a house of rot can be a costly procedure. You may need to remove and replace the worst-affected timbers, while others will need to be treated with chemicals.

Equally, if your home is in the early stages, something as simple as better ventilation could help.

  • It’s a listed property

Listed properties tend to need a lot more maintenance than a modern home. A Buildings Survey is designed to inspect older, unusual or listed properties. Again, budget for between £600 and £1,000.

  • You’ve lived there a long time

If you have lived in your home for a significant period, a property survey could uncover all sorts of things you had no idea about. You can then rectify any smaller issues and set plans in place to deal with any bigger issues.

A HomeBuyer Report, which starts at around £400, could be sufficient here.

What should I do once I’ve had a self-survey carried out?

The action you take after having a ‘self-survey’ will depend on the results.

  • If your survey uncovers a small issue, you may be able to do a bit of decorating – or carry out some simple DIY – to deal with the problem.
  • If your survey uncovers a bigger issue, you may want to commission a supporting survey to look at identified problems in more detail.
  • You may also want to get issues investigated by an independent expert or specialist – or a builder – and you may want to get estimated costings for repairs or concerns.

What are my options?

If the property survey uncovers any problems, you have a few options to consider:

  • Take action to fix the issues – or at least put the beginnings of a treatment plan in place – before putting your home on the market.
  • Lower the price of your property a little and disclose the findings of the survey.
  • Be willing to negotiate on price with potential buyers to account for the cost of fixing the problem once they move in (or potentially before they move in). If you are determined to move, you will have to accept your property has faults and will need to adjust the price accordingly.
  • Talk to your estate agent – as well as any potentially interested parties – for full transparency. If a potential buyer finds out about any defects from you – rather than from a surveyor’s report – they are more likely to stay interested.
  • In the worst-case scenario, you may decide not to put your home on the market at this time.

You’ll also need to get an Energy Performance Certificate on your property before it’s marketed for sale, but the estate agent will organise this for you. Costs start at around £60.

If building work has ever been carried out on your home by previous owners, check that the appropriate permission has been gained, as potential buyers will not want to inherit any problems.

If pre-existing works have been carried out without local authority approval, see if there is cover for these.

Equally, if you have had any work carried out while you’ve been living in the property, such as extensions or conversions, make sure you have paperwork showing you obtained the appropriate planning permission and building regulations.

If you haven’t got the right documents, you may find you have to pay for them retrospectively before agreeing a sale.

Choosing the right estate agent is incredibly important.

It is usually worth approaching two or three agents and you can compare those in your area. At this valuation stage you’re not committed to using any of them.

As well as valuing your property, ask them to bring paperwork on sold prices in the local area and quiz all potential agents on how they plan to market your property, making sure they show it to the widest possible audience through property websites BUT also see if they’re keeping up with current trends such as utilising video marketing and social media…

Ask agents to provide details about what they’ve sold recently. You need to have an agent who is used to selling your kind of home.

While it’s tempting to go for the estate agent that gives you the highest valuation, you need to make your choice based on sales success and service offered.

Don’t forget there are also online-only agents to consider. With one of these agents, you may be able to save money, but you may have to do a lot more of the legwork yourself – such as showing potential buyers around your home. The key is to weigh up the pros and cons.

Before signing on the dotted line with any estate agent, make sure you check the terms of the agreement carefully.

A contract with an estate agent is legally binding, so it’s important to know exactly what you are getting into – and exactly what you’ll need to pay – before you instruct them.

High street agents typically charge anywhere between 1% and 3% commission, plus VAT, on the sale price.

Here are the key contract terms to be aware of.

Sole selling rights means that the agent is the only one allowed to sell your home during the tie-in period and will be paid commission even if you find a buyer yourself.

Like sole selling rights, a sole agency contract is when the agent ties you in for a period of time as the only one with the right to sell your property. But if you find your own buyer, you won’t have to pay the agent.

There’s also a multiple agency agreement, which allows you to market the property with several agents and only pay commission to the one that sells your home. The drawback is that agents will typically charge higher fees under such a contract.

Finally, an open-ended agreement allows your agent to claim commission if you sell your home to a buyer they introduced – regardless of how much time has passed since.

Pros and cons of sole agency

A sole agent will act for you for a certain period. They receive all the commission on a sale, but if the property hasn’t sold at the end of this period, you’re free to use other estate agents.

Pros

  • The charge is usually between 1.5% and 2%, which is cheaper than multi-agency. Agents will agree to lower commission with sole agency, as there is a higher chance they will make the sale.
  • If you find a buyer yourself privately, there is no commission to pay unless you have agreed sole selling rights with the agent. It’s an increasingly rare arrangement, but if this is the case, you must pay commission regardless of who finds the buyer.

Cons

  • Historically you’d receive less exposure than you would with more than one agency. However, with most buyers using sites like Zoopla, this is now less of an issue.
  • You may end up with lower offers than you would with multiple agents.
  • You will sign up to a ‘lock-in’ period, usually 12 weeks, meaning it will be hard to switch agents if you’re unhappy.
  • If you do sell through another agent while still under contract, you could find yourself having to pay commission not only to the agent who sold the property, but also to the original sole agent.

Pros and cons of multi agency

You can instruct as many agents as you like. They will all act for you at the same time and the one who finds the buyer earns the commission.

Pros

  • More agents pushing your property used to mean more exposure historically but, thanks to buyers predominantly using sites such as Zoopla, this is less pronounced.
  • You may receive higher offers.
  • As agents will be competing against each other, this can speed up a sale. 

Cons

  • The fee may be closer to 3%.
  • All agents will be competing against each other to secure the commission, potentially making the process quite chaotic.
  • As several agents will have keys to your home, the viewing process could be more disruptive.
  • If buyers see multiple listings for your home with different agents they may be put off.

Top tips

  • Most sellers start with sole agency and only move to multiple agents if their property doesn’t sell quickly.
  • While the standard lock-in period with a sole agent is 12 weeks, shorter periods of six to eight weeks can often be negotiated.
  • Multi agency may be the better option if the importance of a fast sale outweighs increased commission.
  • Joint agency is another option. This is where you instruct two agents, who will come to an agreement over commission: it may be shared irrespective of who finds the buyer. It’s a more common option for selling overseas property when you want to appoint a specialist national agent as well as a generalist local agent. The fee for joint agency tends to be around 2%.
  • For help finding the right agent for you, make use of Zoopla’s AgentFinder tool where you can compare the number of properties listed and the average time it takes to sell.

What is an estate agent’s tie-in period – and does it vary?

Tie-in periods typically span around 12 weeks, with a 14-day notice period. However, the tie-in period can vary dramatically between agents – from four weeks to 20, in some cases.

Be aware that if you want to switch to another agent, you may have to pay fees to the first agent under the contract terms.

It’s vital to check the contract and understand what you’re being asked to sign. Ask how long the tie-in period is, and check the small print carefully.

If you’re not happy with the tie-in period, you can ask for it to be changed. After all, the agent is likely to want your business, particularly if you’ve got a property that should be relatively easy to sell.

Remember, also, that sales fall through all the time – be clear that you won’t pay commission if this happens.

If you do want to change agents, you’d be wise to give notice and wait for the contract to run out before placing the property with another agent.

Typically, you’ll be able to give two weeks’ notice before the end of the tie-in period, so you can leave as soon as this expires and switch to another agent if you want.

If you want your property to actually sell, don’t price it too high. The asking price needs to appeal to buyers and make your property stand out.

Equally, beware of asking for too little, as you won’t get the full value.

A lot will depend on how quickly you need to move. Selling fast may be a priority if you’re selling and buying at the same time, and have already found the place you want to buy.

Also bear in mind that buyers will usually try and negotiate a discount, so you’ll need to allow for 5% to 10% less than the asking price.

Once you have chosen your estate agent, it’s crucial the photos of your home showcase its best features. The description also needs to be engaging. You’re perfectly within your rights to ask the estate agent to make changes.

Ensure your property is clean and tidy for all viewings. Try and keep any pets away.

After each viewing has taken place, call up your agent and request feedback. This will help you understand if there are steps you can take to improve your home’s appeal.

Having the luxury of more than one buyer will depend on the property market, the season, the type of home you’re trying to sell – and, of course, the price tag.

But if you’re in the fortunate position of having a number of interested buyers knocking at your door, and you’re getting multiple offers, how do you decide which one to go with?

While your first instinct may be to go with the buyer with the highest offer, there are other important factors to consider, including your buyer’s position.

Are they a cash buyer?

While many buyers will need a mortgage in order to buy your home, some will have be able to pay in cash.

A cash buyer can often mean a quicker, smoother selling process with less paperwork and no onward chain. They can also offer security.

This convenience may clinch your decision – and especially if you need a quick sale.

But always ask your estate agent to get confirmation of the funding situation of a cash buyer from a bank, accountant or solicitor before accepting an offer.

Also be warned that a savvy cash buyer will know that they are in a stronger position than other buyers, and as a result, may try and negotiate more off the asking price.

The best way to look at it is like this: if you need to sell quickly, a cash buyer could be the way to go, but if the sold price is more important, it may be worth holding out for an offer at full asking price.

Are they a first-time buyer?

When choosing a potential buyer, a first timer could also be a great option, because they don’t have to sell a home before buying, so are chain-free. This should mean the process of selling your house or flat is quicker than it would be with another buyer.

Are they chain-free?

Aside from first-time buyers, you might want to prioritise other chain-free buyers.

This might, for example, include a buyer who is currently renting, or someone who wants to buy your home as an ‘additional’ property, such as a buy-to-let or a holiday home.

Being chain-free can make these buyers a safer bet.

That said, be careful not to make assumptions. Check on their situation, plans, and expectations for when they want to compete.

Does the buyer already have a mortgage agreed?

If you don’t have cash buyers interested, you will need to choose between other potential buyers – the ones who need to borrow from a bank or building society to finance their purchase.

If this is the case, find out whether they have a ‘mortgage agreement in principle’. This is essentially a letter from a lender setting out how much they would be willing to lend, based on an initial assessment of the borrower’s circumstances. It will indicate the likelihood of the potential buyer’s mortgage application being accepted.

A good estate agent will vet potential buyers to check their situation, their identity, and that they are financially able to proceed with the purchase.

Don’t rule out buyers in a chain – check out their situation

While your heart may sink at the thought of getting trapped into a long chain, a lot depends on the selling position of those within the chain.

For example, a chain of six where each link has solicitors appointed (and busy carrying out searches and contracts), surveys carried out, and where some parties already have mortgage offers, can be much lower risk than a small chain where no-one has had a survey or made any financial commitment yet.

Ask your estate agent to do some research to find out all they can before you accept an offer. This will help you to be sure you are making the right choice.

A cooling housing market can make conditions tough for sellers, as many buyers hold out to see if prices fall. If this is the case, these top tips can breathe a new lease of life into the sales process.

1. Check your home’s ‘kerb appeal’

Many potential buyers do a ‘drive-by’ of a property before they even book a viewing, so it’s important they like what they see from the outside.

Make sure the front of your home looks appealing by keeping your front garden tidy, repainting and fixing the fence, and putting your wheelie bin out of sight.

2. Remember the basics

Your de-personalised, de-cluttered and deep-cleaned home, having been ‘lived in’ for a few months, may have found its way back to its more typical state. Refer back to the Prepare the property section and ensure it’s looking ready for viewers.

3. Go shopping

Still not working? Consider splashing out on smart new towels and a new bedspread, as these things can all help add a little sparkle.

4. Ensure your property is well aired

While you will be keen to ensure potential viewers come into a warm and cosy home during the colder winter months, you don’t want your property to seem stuffy, so open the windows regularly to let in some fresh air.

5. Invite in light

Take advantage of natural sunlight when you can and make sure blinds and curtains are open during the day. Also, ensure your home is well-lit at night and in the winter months.

6. Think about dropping the sale price

Have a frank chat with your estate agent and do your own research to find out what’s going on in the local market to help you set a realistic asking price.

At the same time, think carefully before deciding you are willing to accept a large discount for your property, especially if this could have an impact on whether you can afford the home you are trying to buy.

Do your maths – and your homework – to ensure you set the price at the right level.

7. Change your photos

Look at the photos that are being used to market your property and consider whether they are showcasing your home’s best elements.

Buyers spend mere seconds looking at photos, so pictures should show your home in its best light to grab their attention quickly.

If you’re not happy with the photos, or the marketing blurb that accompanies them, speak to your agent and get things changed. First impressions are crucial.

8. Get all your paperwork in place

If you want a sale to conclude quickly, it helps to have your paperwork in order before you receive an offer.

This means appointing a solicitor or conveyancer at an early stage and getting them to prepare the sales pack and draft contract.

This is particularly important if you are selling a leasehold property, as this process can take a long time.

It’s also important to know where your property’s title deeds are.

By having everything in place, you can then get the necessary paperwork to your buyer’s solicitor quickly once a sale price is agreed.

If a potential buyer makes an offer, your estate agent is legally required to pass it on to you – no matter how low or outrageous the offer may seem.

You then have the option to reject any offer outright, or to try and negotiate it upwards.

While you don’t have to sell to the highest bidder, you need to choose the buyer that is right for you. You may, for example, prefer to sell to a first-time buyer, a cash buyer, or someone who is not in a chain.

Once you are happy with an offer, you need to formally accept this.

Once you have accepted an offer, you will need to appoint a solicitor to handle all the legal work.

Also known as ‘conveyancing,’ this process involves a solicitor drawing up a legal contract to transfer ownership from one person to another.

Here’s more information on what a conveyancer does.

It is worth asking family, friends and colleagues for solicitor recommendations. Also check out reviews and recommendations online. We can of course recommend local solicitors that we work with on a regular basis to ensure we can keep everything on track.

If you are buying and selling at the same time, it is likely to be a lot cheaper and easier to use the same solicitor for both transactions.

Once you have appointed a solicitor, you will need to complete paperwork about the property and about the sale.

This will cover matters such as the sale price, property boundaries, fixtures and fittings, planning restrictions, services to the property, such as drainage and gas, and when the sale will complete.

You are legally required to reply truthfully.

Expect to pay between £500 and £1,500 for conveyancing – but note there are a number of extra charges on top, such as title deeds, transferring ownership fee, and search fees, so make sure you budget for these.

Once you’ve got to this stage, momentum is key to push the sale through to exchange and completion, so keep in regular phone or email contact with your estate agent and solicitor.

The quicker things progress, the less chance there is for any party to change their mind and pull out.

In England and Wales, exchange is the last stage of the legal process. It happens once both sides are happy with the contract, and sign final copies and send them to each other.

Once you have exchanged, you are legally committed to selling and the buyer is legally committed to buying from you. Neither side can then pull out without paying compensation.

At exchange, a date of completion will be set. This will usually be two weeks later – giving you time to arrange removals.

Be sure to shop around for quotes for removals firms, and be aware of the factors that can affect the price, such as the size of van (or vans) you need, how far you are moving, which day you move, which time of year you move, whether the firm does the packing or whether you do it yourself.

Have a read of Zoopla’s stress-free moving tips.

Completion is when the property changes ownership. As part of this process, money is transferred from the buyer to the seller, and the legal documents needed to transfer ownership are then handed to the buyer.

At this stage, your property has to be in the state agreed in the contract – including the fixtures and fittings.

All is left now is to hand your keys to the buyer. And to crack open the bubbly!