Been a while since you put your home on the market? There's a lot to get your head around. We break it down to help you on your way.
If you’ve decided this is the year to sell your home, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed – especially if you are trying to buy at the same time.
The key to success (and keeping stress to a minimum) is to be methodical and organised.
Here we guide you through the steps involved, from getting your finances in order, preparing your home, choosing an estate agent, right through to exchange and completion.
That way, you know what to expect further down the line.
Bear in mind that different rules apply to selling your home in Scotland, which we'll look at in more detail further down this guide.
- Sort your finances
- Should I buy and sell at the same time?
- Prepare the property
- Do I need a property survey?
- Check authorisations for any building work
- Find the true value of the property
- Appoint an estate agent
- Decide on a contract with the estate agent
- Set a realistic price
- Market the property
- What to look for in a buyer
- What to do if your home won't sell
- Accept an offer
- Instruct a solicitor
- Keep things moving
- Exchange documents
- Organise the move
- Selling a home in Scotland
Once you’ve decided to sell your home, you need to speak to your mortgage lender if you have one, and let them know about 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 – estate agents can help with this. And you can get sold house prices and current estimated values for any UK property on Zoopla.
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 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 just show up 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.
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 the garden either. Make sure both front and back are cut back and tidy, fix and repaint gates and fences and give the patio a blast with 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.
But, in some outside cases, 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 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.
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 better to find out yourself that you have a major damp problem, than have it 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, at starting costs of 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 a potential buyer to account for the cost of them needing to fix 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.
It’s important to set the right asking price when selling your home and here are some pointers to help you on your way.
Use the ‘Zoopla estimate’ tool
A good starting point is to get a Zoopla estimate. Simply type in your postcode, locate your address, and then press ‘get estimate.’
It will give you a guide price for your property based on a formula that analyses millions of data points relating to property sales and home features.
Sources include Government figures, estate agents, surveyors and people like you who buy and sell homes. Accuracy of the tool depends on location and availability in your area – the more data available, the more accurate it is.
The results will also show a ‘confidence’ level as a percentage. For example, a ‘94% confident’ result means the estimate is likely to be pretty accurate.
It's possible to ‘refine your estimate’ by providing additional information about your home’s features, such as the decorative condition, extent of central heating, size of outside space, availability of parking, and whether the property is listed.
Remember, though, that a ‘Zoopla estimate’ is just a starting point and should be viewed as a guide price.
Contact estate agents through Zoopla
To get a really accurate valuation you'll need to draw on the expertise of local estate agents.
They will inspect your home and take into account its unique features, the area and market conditions.
You can find estate agents in your area with Zoopla’s AgentFinder tool. Simply type in your postcode to see which agents are available in your area, what they’re selling and the average price.
You can then call or email your favourite agents to get a free valuation of your home.
When getting your home valued, be sure to get valuations from at least three agents. You can then take an average of those valuations.
Better still, you could ask each agent for three figures: the highest price they think your house or flat could achieve in the current market, their suggested selling price, and their estimated eventual selling price.
The more information you have, the closer you will get to understanding the true value of your home.
Check out market trends
Another way to get a feel for how much your home may be worth is by looking at what similar properties on your street – and nearby streets – have sold for.
Try typing your postcode into Zoopla’s ‘house prices & values’ tool which gives sold house prices and current estimated values for any UK property.
You can refine your search by property type, and you can compare market activity over different timescales of between 12 months and 20 years. Remember, any valuation you get from using this tool is only a guide.
In addition, you could check out the ‘for sale’ prices of properties in your area to see what ‘asking prices’ sellers have opted for in the current market.
Try typing your postcode into Zoopla’s ‘Property for sale’ tool and see what comes up close to your home.
Further to this, the AskMe took is a useful resource which you can use to get advice from estate agents – and also to get property knowledge from local people.
Look at key features and big-ticket items
When getting valuations for your home, you are likely to get a range of figures from online tools, as well as agents.
Within this estimated range, it is worth looking at some of the big ticket items to see if they are more likely to push you towards the upper end of the valuations you’ve been given.
Here are some examples of things which could mean your home is likely to be close to the top end of the range – meaning you can potentially command a higher house price:
- Modern wiring and plumbing.
- Energy-efficient features which give your home a stronger energy efficiency rating, such as double glazing, good insulation, and a modern boiler.
- Modern central heating throughout the property. Or better still, a hidden central heating system such as under-floor heating or in-wall heating.
- Being south-facing.
- Fast broadband. Many sellers will avoid properties with sluggish broadband – the ‘fourth utility’ after electricity, gas and water.
- An en suite fitted to one or more of the bedrooms – and features such as new taps, a heated towel rail and power shower.
- Features such as bi-folding doors leading on the garden, as well as a fire pit for adults or a treehouse for children.
- A loft conversion, conservatory or home office.
You may have covered this while finding the value of your home in the point above, but if not choosing the right estate agent now is important.
It is usually worth approaching two or three agents and you can compare those in your area by using Zoopla's AgentFinder tool. Remember, 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, such as Zoopla and PrimeLocation.
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.
The choice is yours, but here are the benefits of using a Zoopla estate agent.
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 is 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 but it's always worth seeing if you can negotiate on cost.
Here are the key contract terms to look out for. Beware that some aren’t always in your best interests, as a seller.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- More agents pushing your property historically used to mean more exposure, 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.
- The fee may be closer to 3%.
- All agents will be competing against each other, potentially making the process quite chaotic.
- An inherent risk agents may try and get you to accept a lower offer so they secure the commission.
- 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.
- 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. ie. 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.
Beware that if you aren’t happy with the service, or how the agent is performing, and want to switch to another agent, this could see you stumping up massive fees 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, as some can last longer than the typical 16 weeks.
If you’re not happy with the tie-in period, don’t be afraid to ask for it to be changed. And if you can’t change the tie-in period, make sure you have the flexibility to terminate the contract without penalty if you’re unhappy with the agent.
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 be forking out for commission in this case.
If you 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.
You’ll typically be able to service 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.
Compare agents using Zoopla’s AgentFinder tool.
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 stands 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 add around 5% to 10% to what you are prepared to accept.
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. If you are not happy, don’t be afraid to say this.
Ensure your property is clean and with as much floor space showing as possible for all viewings. Try 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 buyers 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 parties 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 offering the most cash, there are other important factors to consider, including your buyer’s position.
Is the buyer a cash buyer?
While many buyers will need a mortgage in order to buy your home, some will have deep enough pockets to be able to pay in cash.
When selling your home, a cash buyer will stand out from the crowd, as they tend to be a lot easier to deal with.
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.
Is the buyer 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.
In addition, a first-time buyer could be more likely to get attached to your property and set their heart on it. This may make them less likely to walk away at the sniff of any problems raised in their survey.
Is the buyer 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.
Get your estate agent 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/ 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. Consider re-evaluating your selling agent
Give some thought to your estate agent and consider moving to a new one if you’re not content.
The key is to find an agent familiar with selling your kind of property and who has good knowledge of the area you are selling in.
They also need to be enthusiastic and proactive about trying to shift your home. Zoopla’s AgentFinder tool can help here.
But, before rushing to find a new agent, check if you are tied in for a fixed period. See our section on appointing an estate agent.
8. 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.
9. 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. Another option is Zoopla’s partner, MoveIt, which you can use to compare solicitors based on price, service and location.
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.
Find out more information on how to track down a solicitor.
Once you have appointed a solicitor, you will need to complete a pile of 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 don’t be afraid of making regular calls – or sending frequent emails – to the 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, and so on.
Check out Zoopla’s partner AnyVan, where you can get a quick quote based on factors such as your move date, distance, and the size of your current property.
And have a read of their 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.
If you're selling your home in Scotland, the rules work slightly differently. Here's a rundown of the five main differences between the English and Scottish conveyancing systems.
It is a legal requirement that all properties have a ‘Home Report’ in place before they are marketed for sale, the only exceptions being new-build homes and buildings that have been recently converted into residential accommodation.
The Home Report is made up of three parts:
• The Single Survey – contains a valuation and details the structural condition of the property
• The Energy Report – gives details on the property’s energy efficiency
• The Property Questionnaire – outlines other key information about the history of the property (such as whether it has ever flooded), as well as current information, such as which council tax band the property falls into.
Your estate agent or solicitor will help you arrange this.
In England and Wales, a seller is only required to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) in order to market their home. This sets out a property’s energy use and typical costs.
In England and Wales it is the buyer (not the seller) who arranges a survey if they choose to and only when an offer has been accepted.
1. Put your house on the market
As in any part of the UK, you will need to decide on an asking price for your property, and ensure your home is marketed in the best light.
However, in Scotland, properties are often marketed by conveyancing firms offering an estate agency service. This is because most residential conveyancing firms in Scotland also have an estate agency department.
Your property solicitor will carry out standard estate agency tasks, such as advertising the property and negotiating with buyers. They can also offer conveyancing services to cover the legal aspects of selling your property.
You do have the option of choosing a separate estate agent and conveyancer, but make sure you do your research to get a good quote.
2. Set the right price
In Scotland, properties are marketed as either ‘offers over’ a particular price – or at a ‘fixed’ price. Speak to your agent or solicitor about which is the best option for you.
A ‘fixed price’ is mostly used when market conditions are more challenging and the seller wants a quick sale.
If you’re marketing your home as ‘offers over’
In this scenario, you will usually set a closing date by which you want to receive all bids. If a buyer likes your home, their solicitor will get in touch with your agent to ‘note their interest.’
This does not mean a potential buyer has to put in an offer – but means they have to be notified if a closing date for offers has been set by the seller. In other words, once this has been received, you cannot sell your property without giving the interested buyer a chance to put in an offer.
Hopeful buyers are asked to submit a ‘sealed bid’ – as well as a potential date of entry when they will pay for the property and get the key. This offer needs to be put forward by their solicitor by the set closing date.
If you’re marketing your home at a ‘fixed price’
With the Scottish ‘fixed price’ system, it’s the first person to offer the required amount that becomes the successful party.
2. Inform the buyer they have been successful
In Scotland, the seller’s solicitor will often let bidders know whether they have been successful on the same day they have made their offer. The buyer’s solicitor must then confirm the buyer’s mortgage with the lender, and agree an entry date.
An offer must be honoured
In Scotland, once a seller has accepted an offer, they must honour this. Generally speaking, properties are taken off the market once a price has been agreed.
By contrast, in England and Wales, a seller accepts an offer ‘subject to contract’. This agreement is not legally binding, and either side can withdraw without penalty until contracts are exchanged.
This means that in England and Wales, there is nothing to stop you keeping your home on the market – and accepting a higher offer if you receive one between accepting the offer and getting to exchange. This is why the morally questionable practice of ‘gazumping’ is a problem.
While gazumping is not illegal in Scotland, the way the homebuying system is set up makes it rare.
3. Start the conveyancing process
A solicitor performs the conveyancing work to ensure ownership of the property is transferred correctly.
While in England and Wales there is one single contract, in Scotland the seller’s solicitor and buyer’s solicitor will exchange a string of ‘missives’ – a series of letters. These will contain all the clauses that apply to the sale, including when the buyer will get the keys.
The process can be drawn out as various legal checks are undertaken and a deed of transfer is compiled. That said, it usually takes between one day and four weeks for the missives to be concluded.
4. Conclusion of the missives
Once the written negotiations of the sale are worked out and agreed by both the seller’s solicitor and buyer’s solicitor, the two solicitors exchange ‘conclusion of missive’ letters – these legally commit both parties to the sale and purchase.
At this point, neither party can break the agreement without paying compensation.
By contrast, in England and Wales, there is no legally binding agreement until contracts are signed and exchanged. This means that up until this point, either party can withdraw from the sale.
This time between accepting an offer and exchange – which is typically eight weeks long – is a problematic stage of the homebuying process in England and Wales, and there are often delays.
5. Agree moving dates
Once the missives have been concluded, both solicitors will agree a date for the exchange of contracts and completion. Once you’ve agreed a provisional moving day, you can start organising removals – and begin packing.
The sale is completed on the date of entry agreed in the contract. This is also when the buyer pays the balance of the purchase price to your solicitor, who will then tell the estate agent to release the keys to your home.
Finally, your property is sold and the disposition document will set out that ownership has been transferred.