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How can I make sure my home sale goes through?

Worried about your buyers pulling out? Here’s how to safeguard against some of the common problems when selling.

Guest Author
Words by: Matilda Battersby


You’ve found a buyer for your home and the process is underway. This is an exciting time. 

But, there’s a lot at stake and the risk of a sale falling through can be stressful.

In the weeks or months that can go by between accepting an offer and the sale completing, it can feel as though everything is out of your hands.

And while things can go wrong, there are steps you can take to keep the sale on track.

Knowledge is power in all things, so if you can predict potential problems, you can also put the solutions in place.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What can make a house sale fall through?

There are a few key reasons a home sale might not go through to completion:

1. A break in a property chain

One of the most common reasons for a sale to fall through is a problem with the property chain. If you're in a chain, it means there are other sales and purchases related to yours.

Sometimes five or six homes may be being bought and sold as part of one chain.

If your buyers are relying on the sale of their home to buy yours, and their buyers pull out, it has a knock-on effect.

You’ll either have to wait while your buyer finds new buyers for their place. Or, if that looks unlikely, you might need to put your home back on the market to attract other buyers.

Equally, if there are delays with the home you’re wanting to buy, it can have an impact on the people who want to buy your place, who may want to move more quickly.

If that happens, you might consider renting a property just to get yours sold, while you wait for the home you want to buy to become available.

How can I manage my property chain?

The truth is you can’t manage an entire property chain, but you can stay on top of your part in it.

That means making sure your paperwork is filed on time and being responsive to requests from your buyer’s solicitor and estate agents.

Communication is a key part of this process. Phone or email your estate agent and solicitor to check on progress regularly and see if there’s anything you can do to help.

If your buyers are being slow, then you can ask your solicitor to nudge their solicitor, and your estate agent will be willing to help, too.

One way you can protect yourself from being out of pocket if you’re in a long chain and things go wrong, is to take out Home Buyers’ Protection insurance. 

This kind of insurance means that even if the sale collapses, most of your costs can be recouped.

Find out more about Home Buyers’ Protection insurance in our guide

2. Delays with the paperwork

Even if everyone’s super keen to buy, there are still practical things that could damage a sale.

There might be small disputes and delays with the paperwork that can keep the process stretching on for weeks or even months. 

Sometimes solicitors will have a conveyancing backlog, which means it can take longer for them to get around to working on your case.

On average, it takes around 25 weeks to sell a home. That’s from the moment it's first listed to the moment you hand over the keys.

But it can take up to 34 weeks, or be as quick as 17 weeks.

Find out more about how long the different parts of the buying process take in our guide

The longer all this stuff takes, the more likely it is for the transaction to fall through.

Sometimes buyers can be hampered by mortgage lenders not confirming a mortgage offer. This sometimes happens weeks after an offer has been accepted.

Often buyers will be able to find another lender, but having to start the process again can cause frustrating delays.

How can I prevent unnecessary delays to my sale?

It’s the little things like missing a call from your solicitor, or not sending back paperwork quickly that can hold things up for everyone.

You’ll need to accept that normal life may have to take a back seat until you've exchanged contracts. Make sure you’re fully contactable, even if you’re on holiday.

The sooner you can get your solicitor and paperwork organised the better. 

Your solicitor will work hard for you to keep the sale going at a sensible speed. So make sure you instruct someone reliable and get them in place before you accept an offer.

Delays elsewhere can and will occur. But do your bit by being as efficient as possible.

Keep lines of communication open between you, your solicitor and estate agent. Asking them to nudge the others in the chain can really help.

Crucially, don’t just assume things are going ahead as planned. Be on everyone’s case.

Two adults in a lounge where the ceiling has been pulled down

3. The buyer's survey reveals problems with the home

Your buyers are likely to have a survey done on your home before they buy it.

If the survey throws up lots of unexpected problems it could make them rethink the purchase or reduce their offer.

Your solicitors may then enter into a process of negotiations until an agreeable figure can be reached between the two parties.

To keep the sale moving, you can offer to have the problems fixed for your buyer, or consider reducing your asking price.

Find out more about surveys and what they can show

What can I do if a survey reveals problems with my home?

If there are repairs or problems with your home that need sorting, tackle them before selling.

If you don’t, it could put your sale in jeopardy. So, if the roof has a cracked tile, there’s damp in the bedroom and the floors or plasterwork need a bit of attention, get it sorted.

Obviously you can’t predict everything that might come up on a survey, but do your best to sort out any obvious things if you can.

If a survey throws up lots of issues that will be expensive to fix, your buyer will want to negotiate the price down.

And, if you know that these issues exist and haven’t resolved them, then you can expect this to happen.

So, if a survey reveals thousands of pounds worth of issues, be prepared to negotiate. If you don’t, you increase the likelihood of your buyers walking away. 

Find out more about surveys and the sorts of issues they can reveal in our guide.

4. Buyer’s remorse

It can be frustrating, but sometimes buyers simply change their minds.

Moving is a big practical and emotional upheaval, and sometimes it just all proves too much.

If it happens to you and someone pulls out of buying your home, speak to your estate agent immediately.

They have been known to move mountains (well, nearly) when it comes to helping a chain stay intact.

They will be as keen for your sale to go through as you are and can be extremely helpful in finding you another buyer pronto.

Here's our guide to buying and selling at the same time.

What do I do if my buyer wants to pull out?

The uncomfortable truth is that if contracts haven’t yet been exchanged, there’s nothing to stop your buyer from pulling out of buying your home.

This can be particularly frustrating if you’re part of a chain. One person pulling out could have a knock-on effect and then the place you want to buy could fall through too.

There’s no fool proof way to stop this happening to you. But it’s worth looking out for red flags early on in the transaction.

Sometimes buyers will give out signals they may not be one hundred percent on board with buying early in the process, such as:

  • they may not have put their home on the market

  • being slow or unresponsive to queries

  • not appointing a solicitor

  • postponing returning paperwork

  • not commissioning surveys or searches

When you accept an offer, try to gauge how serious your buyers are by looking carefully at the position they’re in, both financially and personally.

It could be worth asking your estate agent for their view on the mindset of the buyer.

Again, communication is key. If you get the impression your buyer is dragging their heels early on in the sales process, talk to your estate agent and your solicitor.

But whatever you do, your buyer may get spooked by something and pull out. 

If this happens, ask your solicitor or estate agent if they can pass on a message or share your contact details. Chances are a conversation and reassurance could sort things out.

But, if you think your buyer is serious about pulling out of the sale, it’s better for everyone to know about this early.

We know how difficult and stressful this can be.

Rest assured your estate agent will do their level best to find another buyer in time to keep your own purchase on track.

5. Getting gazundered

You’ve probably heard of “gazumping,” but “gazundering” can be just as alarming.

Gazundering is where a buyer reduces their offer at a late stage in the buying process. This might be weeks after you’ve accepted their higher offer. 

They might do this to reflect the cost of building or repair work that may have been highlighted by a survey. 

The market might have dipped or your buyer might not be able to borrow as much as they planned.

The worst examples happen just before exchange of contracts is due to take place. You might then have to decide between accepting their reduced offer or letting the entire purchase collapse.

What can I do if my buyer tries to gazunder me?

Thankfully it’s still pretty rare to be gazundered.

But, if you do find yourself in a situation where your buyers are trying to reduce their offer at a late stage, take a step back.

Look at the market conditions and what homes similar to yours are selling for right now. This might have changed in the months since you accepted your buyer’s initial offer.

Our tools can help with this.

Track the value of your place at My Home

You also need to consider if the home you’re selling reflects the same value as other homes being sold nearby. 

If it’s a fixer-upper or there have been problems revealed by a survey, it could be sensible to accept a lower offer to secure the sale.

If your home is in good condition but the market has changed and your neighbours' homes are now going for less, consider the cost to you of finding a new buyer. 

Chances are you’ll get the same money, but it’ll take a lot longer to go through the process with new buyers all over again.

But, if your buyers are chancing it and you feel confident your home should command the top market rate, consider stepping away.

The housing market is buoyant at the moment, thanks to a lack of supply and soaring demand. That means you should have no trouble finding new buyers for your home.

How do I respond to disputes with my buyer?

This is the biggest purchase most people will ever make, so it’s no surprise that emotions can run high.

You can find yourself squabbling over small issues, such as fixtures and fittings.

Part of the paperwork you’ll need to file to your solicitor will reveal what you intend to leave for the buyers as part of the sale.

This will include things like the washing machine and curtains. It can into as much detail as to whether or not you’re leaving your light switches.

If a buyer thinks you’re being unreasonable by suggesting they should pay for your leftover lightbulbs, take a step back.

Consider if this petty issue is worth losing a sale over.

In the grand scheme of things, you may not want to leave your washing machine behind, but getting into an argument about it could cost you the sale.

You could always use leaving certain goods as part of the communication process. Why not suggest throwing in the sofa if the sale goes through before a certain date?

Either way, it pays to be flexible, accommodating and communicative.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.