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Property -> Selling Your House

(March 2005)

Selling a house can be just as fraught with problems as buying one!When a house or flat is put up for sale, a complex process begins that can ultimately involve upwards of 20 people and firms. It's not just a question of the buyer and seller - at some stage your house sale is more than likely to involve an estate agent, a solicitor, a lender and a structural surveyor. And if you find yourself in a property chain, the list can get even longer.

Once you've decided to sell up, your first port of call is probably going to be an estate agent. They'll usually take a few brief details about your house over the phone, then arrange a time when someone can pop over to see the place.

During the visit, detailed particulars are taken, such as the number of rooms, their size, special features, heating system, age of the building, mains services, garage/parking facilities, garden and so on. Photos are also taken, so make sure things are presentable and tidy before they turn up.

The agent will then give their opinion on what price you should be asking for, based on their assessment of the property's market value. It's best to get more than one estate agent's opinion, but don't automatically go with whoever gives you the highest valuation because no matter how great your house is, it won't sell if it's overpriced.

Once you've chosen an agent, they'll put together a draft of particulars and hand them to you for approval. Although the agent will want to emphasise the property's good points, the description must be accurate, otherwise they could face severe penalties, including heavy fines and closure.

After agreeing on a date for launching the sale, the agent will book advertising space in the local press or property guide. They are also likely to circulate the particulars to home seekers on their mailing list, and draw the attention of other applicants to the property.

Meanwhile, you need to advise your solicitor of the fact you're selling up and start taking the required legal steps. It's advisable to get in touch with a solicitor as soon as you decide to put your house on the market, as this will save valuable time later on and ensure you are prepared for a quick sale.

Although sales can go through in a matter of weeks, unfortunately it doesn't always work this way. Be prepared to be patient - and be realistic in your expectations. This may mean being flexible about offers too.

There is plenty of advice available on how to make your home more attractive to potential buyers, but bear in mind that not everyone will love your home as much as you do. Even if your property is perfectly presented and in a prime location, some house-hunters may reject it because it just doesn't "feel right" to them. So don't be too quick to blame your estate agent if the house seems stuck on the market.

Once a buyer has materialised and put in an acceptable bid, the result will be an "offer subject to contract." This means the sale is agreed, but not legally binding until contracts are exchanged. At this point, either party can change their minds without facing legal penalties.

If the buyer hasn't already got a mortgage in place, now is the time for them to find a lender and they should also appoint a surveyor to check the property.

If the survey turns up any problems, the buyer may pull out or insist on a reduced price. If this happens, leave all negotiations to the agent - it is part of the service you are paying for.

Providing all is well with the survey, the matter then moves to the buyer's solicitor or conveyancer, whose task it is to find out all about the property before contracts are drafted.

These enquiries include 'local searches', to ensure that the property is not threatened by compulsory purchase for example.

When the solicitor is sure everything is in order, both parties will be invited to exchange contracts, which include all relevant details, such as names, addresses, description of the property, price, deposit paid and so on. Once both parties sign a copy of this contract, they are legally bound by it.

The sale is normally completed several weeks after contracts are exchanged, when the mortgage money is paid to your solicitor, and the keys handed over to the buyer.

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