The process of selling your home
As likely your most valuable asset the process of selling your home can be daunting, challenging and sometimes fraught with stress - usually because it has implications on the next move you’ve been dreaming about for weeks and months.
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide, with tips and advice on what to look out for and generally how to optimise the process where possible. After all, everyone wants to get as much as possible for their home and have it completed quickly.
How long does it take?
Recent figures released by Rightmove suggest it takes 67 days, this is the time from listing to offer acceptance (whereby a property is typically taken off the market and removed from Rightmove).
The time taken after that varies significantly and depends on individual circumstances. Some sellers may be free to complete as soon as possible, others have a chain in place so there is a hard limit on how fast they can proceed.
Once an offer is accepted, assuming there is nothing holding up either party and nothing objectionable during the legal process thereafter (conveyancing) then the sale can usually finalise within 8-12 weeks.
Securing a mortgage
Whilst a mortgage isn’t technically necessary when selling your home, in most cases you’ll be buying another one (unless you’re a landlord) and the vast majority of the population will do this with mortgage finance.
We go into further detail on mortgages here, but as a quick summary:
- You need to qualify for the mortgage (affordability score, deposit)
- Then you get a formal offer which can be used to show the seller you have funds available (i.e you aren’t simply dreaming with no means to buy the house).
Hiring an estate agent
A critical part of the process is choosing an estate agent, whether it’s an online agent or ‘traditional’ agent with offices along the high street.
We’ve produced a guide which covers hiring estate agents in more depth with everything you could want to know about this.
Preparing your home for sale
If you want to maximise your selling price and cut down the amount of time it takes to find a buyer then it’s best to make sure the property is in good condition. There are a few smaller jobs you can do without necessarily incurring the cost of larger works.
Some tasks to look at:
- If any carpets are in bad condition would it be worth buying new ones?
- Are there any small repairs that need carrying out? (e.g filling in cracks, broken door hinge etc)
- Could anywhere use a fresh coat of paint?
After these tasks are completed you’ll be ready to have photos taken for listing on the property portals (Rightmove, Zoopla etc). Generally you should aim to keep the property in this same condition for viewings. It’s difficult to do (since you have to actually live in it), but buyers have been drawn in because of what they’ve seen in the photos - if your house looks different, is messy etc this can be distracting and put them off.
What to keep in mind before taking the photos:
Decluttering is always a good idea - your buyers may not always have the same taste in decor as you, so the clearer you can make it the better, that way it’s easier for them to visualise living there with their own belongings.
Staging - there’s a fine line between decluttering to help make your home a ‘blank’ canvas VS giving the feeling it’s inviting to live in. For example if you’re showing off a bedroom it needs to have a bed so potential buyers can get the right feel (in addition to weighing up the size more easily), so you don’t want the rooms empty.
Energy performance certificate - this shows information about the property’s energy use, typical energy costs and you must have one to legally sell the property. Your estate agent can usually help recommend someone to carry this out but, if not, it’s pretty easy to find an independent assessor who can provide you with the certificate.
Other paperwork - you might not technically need any other paperwork until the legal process of transferring ownership starts to take place, but it’s much better to do sooner rather than later. This paperwork could include building certificates, boiler warranties etc.
Two main reasons why it’s good to do early:
- The potential buyers might ask you questions pertaining to this paperwork
- Something that’s simple to resolve early on could have a big impact further down the line - for example if you haven’t got a building certificate for work that has been carried out you could obtain one whilst the property is being listed. If you left this until an offer had been accepted it could potentially delay the sale weeks, in which time the buyer could pull out.
The key thing to remember here is that any offers made on your home are not legally-binding. This means a buyer can pull out at any point before exchange of contracts (for any reason). Some estimates put this figure at around as much as 30%.
While most of the circumstances leading to this are completely out of your control (such as the buyer simply changing their mind) the biggest thing you can do before accepting offers and taking your home off the market is to check the buyer has funds in place - either cash or mortgage financing. Your estate agent will be able to recommend how to do this.
The only other factor worth noting here is that buyers with no chain will typically complete at a higher rate (i.e more successfully) than someone with a chain. When there is a chain in place more complications can arise - see our chains section below for further detail. This is why buyers without a chain often seek a slight discount - their sale has a much higher chance at going through, important for sellers working to a timeframe, so can give them negotiating power.
Chain - what is a chain etc
A chain is when a number of buyers and sellers are dependent on each other’s transactions going ahead.
John wants to sell his house to Sally, but Sally needs to sell her flat to Emily before she can buy John’s house.
In this scenario if Emily pulled out then Sally would not be able to buy from John. So even though John is not directly dealing with Emily her actions will impact him.
Chains can be lengthy and the longer they are the greater the likelihood of it ‘breaking’ and sales falling through. If someone does unfortunately back out the chain can still be retrieved, but will take another buyer to be found which can take many weeks.
So the chain impacts the selling process, with everything moving at the speed of the slowest member in that chain. Unfortunately, unless you aren’t buying yourself, or your buyers have no chain, this will impact you - it’s inevitable.
If your buyer is using mortgage finance the mortgage lender will need to carry out a survey on the property to make sure it represent good collateral (i.e an asset they can sell to recoup their money in the event your buyer did not pay the mortgage back)
Even if your buyer doesn’t require mortgage finance it’s likely they’ll want to carry out a survey regardless. Since the transaction has such a high value it only stands to reason the buyer would want to be sure about the condition of the asset they’re purchasing.
Surveyors should be a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and your buyer could request a basic homebuyers report, where the surveyor might just need a quick 15mins inside and outside your home, right through to more extensive building survey with checks in the attic / loft, between floors and ceilings etc.
This is the umbrella term for all the administrative work that covers:
- Checks to make sure there are no specific legal issues when you take ownership of the property
- The transfer of legal ownership from the seller to the buyer
It must be carried out by solicitors registered with the Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority. These solicitors often become specialist ‘conveyancers’ (rather than solicitors who deal with a range of legal cases), regulated and licensed by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).
The types of check that the conveyancing process might cover includes:
- Local authority searches - looks for any plans the local council have in place that might affect your property
- Land registry search - to prove that you legally own the property you’re trying to sell
- Water and drainage search - to ensure your property is connected to fresh water and sewerage systems
This gets more complicated for leasehold properties (such as flats) where someone else (the freeholder) owns the building. The solicitor must ask more questions to confirm that although the buyer won’t own the whole building outright they still have the legal right to live in the property without issues.
If the property is bought with mortgage finance the lender will have a legal ‘first charge’ on the property - meaning if it’s sold they will get paid back first before anyone else, so the solicitor will be liaising with the mortgage lender also.
When all these checks have been carried out the solicitor finalises the paperwork. Exchange of contracts takes place which makes the sale legally binding and a date is set for completion, where the keys are finally handed over.
Moving all your possessions (especially furniture) can be a major pain with tight doorways being particularly problematic!
In most cases you’ll need some strong people to be able to lift everything (especially the fridge if you’re taking it) so will usually involve a specialist removal van unless you have friends / family you call on.
It pays to be organised here, so make sure you put everything possible in boxes, labelled correctly so you know where it is with a written inventory. Highly recommended to keep you sane when eventually unpacking!