Selling a property in the UK

If you are selling property in the UK, here is our brief guide to give you an idea of how the process works and what to look out for. We will look at the following areas:

  1. Estate agents
  2. The asking price
  3. EPC / Home Report
  4. Presentation for sale
  5. Handling viewings
  6. Dealing with offers
  7. Offer accepted
  8. The legal process

Please note that the processes are slightly different depending upon whether you are in England & Wales or Scotland, so do pay attention to these areas. The most important point to bear in mind is that in Scotland, accepted offers are legally binding.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you are purchasing as part of a relocation support package, Celsium can help with this process.

 

1. Estate agents

Choice of estate agent

If you want to sell your property privately there are a handful of online agents that allow you to do that – but be aware that you will need to be in control of the selling process and conduct all of the viewing, which may not be practical for you or may limit the opportunities for prospective purchasers to view your property. Although it will cost you more, you will probably find that using an estate agent is by far the easiest way to sell your property and and achieve the best price.

Standards have improved recently, with the introduction of compulsory government-backed redress schemes for all estate agents. This is a legal requirement so if an agent cannot tell you which scheme they belong to, walk away. The redress schemes are The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services and the Property Redress Scheme.

However, there are still some rogue agents out there, so you should arrange for three different agents to appraise your property before you decide who to select. If Celsium is handling your sale as part of a relocation, we have a national network of trusted estate agents to make choosing the right agent easier for you.

In Scotland, the system is slightly different to that in England in that you will also have the option of selling your property through a solicitor. This is quite normal and you will find that solicitors in the same region join together to create a local property network, e.g. ESPC – Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre, or FifeSPC – Fife Solicitors Property Centre.

Points to consider

  • Who has the most “For Sale” or “Sold” boards in your local area?
  • What do neighbours or colleagues say about their experiences?
  • Does the agent have experience of selling property like yours?
  • Does the agent belong to the NAEA or one of the redress schemes?
  • Do they feature on websites such as Rightmove, Zoopla or OnTheMarket?
  • Does their representative come across as professional and knowledgeable?
  • Will they accompany viewings?
  • What is their fee?

Market appraisal

The agent will visit your property to carry out an assessment, recommend an asking price as well as taking photographs for the sales particulars.

Estate agents have to abide by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 which prohibit agents from engaging in commercial practices that are unfair to sellers, buyers, potential sellers or potential buyers of residential property, i.e. which make it an offence to present misleading or inaccurate details about a property.

You will be required to check and sign off the draft particulars. If the particulars are not quite right, or if the photographs could be better, you are perfectly entitled to request amendments as you see fit.

You should read the agent’s terms and conditions carefully before signing any agreement, particularly in respect of tie-in periods and fees.

Advertising

If you can, you should visit your agent once a week to ensure that your property is on display and they have plenty of particulars to hand out to prospective purchasers. Although all good agents have web presence, do not underestimate the power of printed particulars that can be handed out to anybody just popping in. Checking their website or the three portals named above is easy and can be done at any time.

Some people prefer not to display a “For Sale” board but they do generate a lot of enquiries - even if your house is not situated on a main road - so you are strongly recommended to have one erected.

In some areas, agents advertise in a local property publication whilst the majority will use the local press – Thursday is property day, their own websites and the three portals - Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket. These websites are household names and are the main go to point for property purchasers, so it is imperative that the agent you choose uses one of these portals.

 

2. The asking price

Realistic pricing

It is imperative that you set the initial asking price “correctly”. By that, we mean not too high. Initial overpricing will certainly deter prospective viewers – don’t forget that they can make easy comparisons online.

Buyer interest is at its greatest during the first four weeks of marketing. This is a relatively small window, so it is critical that your initial asking price is not too high. If you start too high and reduce later, your property has already lost its appeal as it suggests to prospective buyers that there may be something wrong with a property, especially if it has been on the market for a long period.

Be mindful of the estate agent’s recommendation. Some agents will suggest a realistic and honest asking price, but others will use the classic ruse of telling you they can get more for your property. Don’t be surprised when the agent recommends a price reduction because you’ve only had a small handful of viewings. It’s nothing but a cheap trick to get your business but it will ultimately damage your chances of selling.

The competition

Before setting your asking price, you need to have some idea of what it is worth in relation to other properties in your area. Go online and get a feel for pricing and for how long properties have been on the market. Keep your eye on the local newspaper - if the same property appears in the local newspaper week after week, it is probably overpriced. If you have time to view such properties this will give you a better overall picture and help you with your marketing strategy.

Factors affecting value

There are many factors to take into account that will affect the value of your property. Some of these you can control, others you cannot:

  • Location characteristics – property types, demographics, local amenities, proximity to railway lines
  • Time of year – winter and holiday seasons are historically quiet times
  • Economic conditions – high wages and low unemployment levels are typically positive
  • Political actions – policy changes, e.g. to stamp duty banding, can temporarily bring the market to a standstill
  • Supply and demand – driven primarily by the economy and politics
  • Property condition – cleanliness, tidiness and maintenance

Asking prices in Scotland

Asking prices in Scotland were traditionally based on an “offers over” figure, which was set lower than the expected sales figure and it was difficult to gauge how much to offer. However, since the introduction of the Home Report which includes a surveyor’s valuation of the property, the method of setting an asking price generally follows the English system of a fixed price or “offers in the region of…”.

Stamp duty

Your purchaser must pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) on increasing portions of the property price above £125,000 if they a property in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) in Scotland on increasing portions of the property price above £145,000, as the following tables indicate:

You need to bear these price bands in mind as if you price your property incorrectly, you will put off potential purchasers if they have to pay over the odds in stamp duty. For example, if you price your property at £258,000, the viewers will see they have to pay stamp duty in the 5% bracket, whereas if you price the property at £249,950, they will see stamp duty at 2%. In reality, the difference is slight - £2,900 versus £2,499 – but it is the mind-set, so do take note as it is sometimes more beneficial to take a slight hit on the asking price in order to increase the number of viewers and the chance of selling.

 

3. EPC / Home Report

Energy performance certificate (EPC)

The EPC is a method of rating the efficiency of a building and was introduced in 2007 as a result of European environmental policy.

The EPC is a compulsory document which you as a seller must by law provide when putting your property on the market and the energy efficiency rating should appear on particulars provided by the estate agent.

Celsium or your estate agent are able to arrange an EPC for you.

In Scotland, the EPC must be displayed somewhere in the property, e.g. in the meter cupboard or next to the boiler.

Recommendations

The EPC may include some cost-effective recommendations split into low-cost (up to £500) and high-cost (over £500).

Each recommended improvement will include:

  • An approximate cost
  • A typical annual cost saving
  • The performance rating after making the improvement(s)

 Please note: you are under no obligation to act on the recommendations.

For more information about EPCs, visit www.direct.gov.uk

Home Report

A home report is a pack of documents provided by the seller of a home that gives potential buyers information about a property for sale. The report consists of three components:

  • Single survey
  • Energy report (EPC)
  • Property questionnaire

The single survey contains an assessment of the condition of the home, a valuation, and an accessibility audit for people with particular needs.

The energy report gives the home an energy efficiency rating and looks at features such as how well insulated the home is, and how it is heated. The energy report also recommends ways to improve the home's energy efficiency and reduce fuel bills.

The property questionnaire contains additional useful information about the property, for example, the property's council tax band, parking arrangements, alterations that have been made to the property, and whether there are any extra costs involved in living there (such as charges for the upkeep of communal areas).

For more information about Home Reports, visit www.scotland.gov.uk 

 

4. Presentation for sale

Kerb appeal

Kerb appeal is the attractiveness of the exterior of a property as viewed from the street. Although you should never judge a book by its cover, the first impression of your house is critical to a successful viewing and if the exterior of your property is not looking its best, a prospective purchaser will be put off from the outset, or, if they are checking out the property before a viewing (yes, this does happen), cancel the viewing.

You should try and consider objectively how your property will be perceived externally by looking at the following points:

  • Does the lawn need cutting / weeding?
  • Is the lawn covered in leaves?
  • Are trees and shrubs neatly pruned?
  • Are walkways swept and clear?
  • Are any paved areas loose / need weeding?
  • Does the woodwork need repainting?
  • Are the windows clean?
  • Are gutters and downpipes in good condition?
  • Are any tiles missing from the roof?

You could even enhance the look of your property by adding a hanging basket, or a couple of shrubs either side of the front door. A little goes a long way and it is worth doing to create that positive first impression.

The interior

The inside of your home is just as important as the outside so take time to prepare in advance for viewings.

Your property needs to smell and look clean, so try to keep your property in tip top condition until you sell it. If you smoke or have pets, open windows to let fresh air circulate. If you can banish the pets whilst the viewing is taking place, do so. Scented furniture polishes work well, as does the old trick of brewing fresh coffee or baking bread, but don’t overdo it as it can be too obvious. And if you are brewing coffee, offer your viewer one.

Tidy up any clutter, e.g. children’s toys, but be aware that viewers will probably want to inspect storage spaces so try not to carelessly stuff items in cupboards.

If your home is dark and dingy, this will put people off, so switch the lights on and pull blinds and curtains so that as much light as possible is available.

The tiniest thing can put viewers off, so consider the following:

  • Does my house smell fresh and look clean?
  • Do all the rooms appear clean and clutter tidied away?
  • Do I need to touch up any decoration?
  • Are all the fixtures and fittings in good repair?
  • Is my house at a comfortable temperature?

It does require some effort but if you can achieve the above, you are well on the way to a successful viewing.

 

5. Handling viewings

Showing your property

In order to maximise the amount of viewings that can take place, you need to make it as easy as possible for interested parties to view your property. In essence, this probably means giving your agent a set of keys for viewings and letting them conduct them. Your agent should offer an accompanied viewing service for their fee. Take advantage of their expertise.

Unscheduled viewings

If somebody calls by unexpectedly and wishes to view your property, this may appear to be a fantastic opportunity but you must consider your safety above all else. You should politely explain to them that it is not convenient and advise them to contact your estate agent to arrange a viewing. You are probably unprepared for the viewing anyway and nobody else will know the viewing is taking place.

Whilst it may be tempting to let somebody in, this advice is for your personal safety.

Keep your distance

Viewers are more at ease when owners are not present, which is why it is generally better to let the agent conduct the viewing. Viewers usually want to ask the agent questions and your presence may deter them. If you do happen to be at home, do not get in their way and allow them to move freely from room to room.

If you are conducting the viewing in the agent’s absence, allow the viewer to go around your house and garden again, unaccompanied.

Questions

The viewer will probably have some questions to ask you, so be friendly and answer them as honestly as you can as they will ask the agent the same questions later. If the agent is present, let them do most of the talking. They should have the appropriate knowledge to answer most questions.

It will be helpful for the viewers if you can let them know what fixtures and fittings you will leave behind.

Remember:

  • Do not allow unplanned visitors into your home
  • Ensure your agent knows how the viewings are to be handled
  • Give your viewers space to move freely around your home
  • Have sales particulars to hand
  • Let the agent do the work

Feedback

All viewings should be followed up by the estate agent within 24 hours of the viewing to provide you with feedback. Many viewers do not provide feedback but do not be disheartened by this. Hopefully, you will get a second viewing but be prepared to hear negative comments about your home. You should look upon such comments as an opportunity to make improvements rather than taking them personally.

Some agents will be sensitive to your feelings and play down any negative feedback. This is not helpful to you as you will not be able to make any required improvements. This in turn may leave you puzzled as to why your property is not selling. If five viewers have said that your purple paint in the bedroom is hideous then take it as being unsightly and consider repainting.

Be strong and ask your agent to be honest with you with negative feedback – a good agent will do this anyway.

 

6. Dealing with offers

Negotiating an offer (England & Wales)

All offers should submitted to your estate agent who is then obliged to advise you. Timing paramount as buyers expect a quick decision – don’t forget they are looking at other properties.

Bear in mind that the first offer is likely to be below what the buyer is prepared to pay, so you are encouraged not to accept this. Usual practice when making an offer is to make an initial offer, maybe a second offer, and then a “best and final” offer.

Counter offer

Once you have received the initial offer, it is useful to make a counter offer indicating the price at which you would sell the property. This tells the prospective buyer in no uncertain terms what they need to bid to buy your property.

When pitching a counter offer, you need to consider how long your property has been on the market. In the early stages, you are in a stronger position to hold out for the asking price but as time goes on this bargaining power weakens.

Often, the buyer will make a second offer to your counter offer, so you may need to compromise a little. Just be careful not to let negotiations go on for too long otherwise the buyer may walk away.

Multiple offers

If you are fortunate enough to have more than one offer for your property, you should make all parties aware of the other interest and set a deadline for “best and final” offers via a sealed bid.

Qualification

Your agent should ensure any bidder has the means to continue with the purchase and you may even find that the highest offer is not necessarily the best.

What you should consider:

  • Are they paying cash? This could speed up the process.
  • Do they have a mortgage in principle? They have a promise of a mortgage.
  • Do they need to sell a property? If they haven’t already sold, this could delay matters.
  • What are their timescales? Are they looking to move soon or in a few months?

Offers in Scotland

Your solicitor or agent will advise if and when offers or notes of interest are received. If more than one party has made an offer, your agent will probably recommend a closing date for all offers to be submitted.

Although a Home Report will have been made available to all viewers, a potential purchaser will very probably want to instruct their own survey, either for their own peace of mind or because their mortgage lender insists they do. In Scotland, if a buyer makes an offer and it is accepted, the buyer is legally bound to buy the property, so it is usual for them to arrange the survey before they make an offer. On that basis, you shouldn’t set a closing date until all the surveys have been carried out.

If your property is advertised as fixed price it means it will be sold to the first person to offer the price.

If your property is advertised as offers over, your solicitor will take “notes of interest”. Once you have received a few notes of interest you should set a closing date after which no more offers will be entertained.

If your property is advertised as offers in the region of, you are inviting buyers to make an offer. You can still set a closing date.

 

7. Offer accepted

First steps

Once you have accepted an offer, you will probably be asked to take the property off the market, which is a reasonable request. Tell your agent that if the sale has not progressed after two weeks you will put the property back on the market. If your agent does receive any further offers they are obliged to advise you.

You will need to notify your solicitor of the property and agent’s details so that they can start the legal process (conveyancing). The estate agent will send to you and your solicitor a memorandum of sale outlining the necessary details.

Surveys

If your purchaser is taking out a mortgage, the mortgage lender will probably send a surveyor to assess the value of your property. In addition to this, your purchaser may carry out a HomeBuyer Report, which offers guidance to legal advisers, highlights any urgent defects and includes a market valuation and insurance rebuild costs. It also includes advice on any defects that may affect the value of the property due to repairs and ongoing maintenance.

If any defects have been revealed, or if the property is “down-valued”, i.e. given a value less than the asking price, the buyer may ask for a reduction to cover the cost of the works or re-negotiate their offer.

It is usual to split the cost of any required works between both parties. For example, if slipped and damaged roof tiles need attending to and the quote for repair is £620 (inc. VAT), the selling price is reduced by £310.

Conclusion of missives (Scotland)

Both solicitors will exchange formal letters (missives) to sort out any conditions of the sale before the offer is finalised. The buyer’s solicitor will also examine the title deeds to your property before missives are concluded.

Once both parties are satisfied with the conditions, the missives are signed and the offer is finalised. This process can take any time from two weeks to a few months, depending on how complicated the sale is.

Once the missives are concluded, the contract is legally binding and neither you nor the buyer can withdraw from the contract or vary the terms at all, unless the other party agrees or there is something in the missives that allows you to do so.

 

8. The legal process

Conveyancing

Your solicitor will carry out the conveyancing before contracts are exchanged. This usually takes between 8 and 12 weeks, but can take longer depending upon the complexity of the case and the number of buyers and sellers in the chain.

What your solicitor does

  • Sends you fixtures and fittings, property information and/or leasehold information sheets that you have to complete and return
  • Requests copied of your title deeds from your mortgage lender and the Land Registry / Registers of Scotland
  • Prepares draft contract for sending to buyer’s solicitor
  • Responds to any questions about the property raise by the buyer’s solicitor
  • Requests a settlement figure for your mortgage
  • Seeks confirmation that buyer’s mortgage has been approved
  • Approves the transfer deed and your signature thereof
  • Arranges exchange of contracts and collection of deposit
  • Pays off your old mortgage

Exchange of contracts

When the buyer and seller are happy with the contract, both sides sign final copies and send them to each other.

The agreement to sell and buy is legally binding once this happens. Usually neither party can pull out without paying compensation.

Prior to exchange of contracts, the buyer usually pays a deposit, usually 10% of the purchase price.

Completion

The completion date is set at exchange of contracts and is usually one or two weeks after exchange of contracts, although exchange and completion can actually take place on the same day in some circumstances.

On completion day, the buyer’s solicitor will transfer money to your solicitor and when this has been received they will be able to pick up the keys (usually from the estate agent) and move into your old home. This is usually from 1pm onwards, so make sure you liaise with your solicitor and removal company to ensure everybody knows what to expect.

The date of entry (Scotland)

In Scotland, once the missives are concluded, the contract is legally binding

Within the missives, the agreed date of entry will be the day that the money and keys will change hands.

Unless you have made special arrangements, you are unlikely to get into the house before 1pm, so liaise with your solicitor and removal company to make sure you are all working to the same timescale on the date of entry.

 

If you are relocating employees and would like any support with your purchase programmes, please contact us for more information.

 

Image by Iain Watson

Stuart Beaty

Celsium, Birmingham, UK