There’s a lot to get your head around. We break it down to help you on your way.
By Esther ShawMarch 12, 2019 12:00
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.
Ready to start the journey? Then here we go.
1. Sort the finances
Once you’ve decided to sell your home, you need to speak to your lender and let them know about your plans.
You should ask how big your outstanding mortgage is, 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 that can often be between 1% and 5% of the remainder of your mortgage, making moving very costly. It’s vital to do your sums to ensure you’re making the right decision.
You will need to do some research on how much your current home might sell for – estate agents can help with this. You can also 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.
2. Should I buy and sell at the same time?
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.
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 you will have to fork out for rent which can be very costly – and could add to your overall moving costs.
3. Prepare the property
Once you’ve made the decision to sell your current flat or house, you need to get it ready first for the estate agents to value it – and then for potential house-hunters to view it.
Your home needs to be spick and span, so be prepared to put in some hard graft.
Getting your home ready for market can be a great time to do a massive de-clutter, and to get rid of things you no longer need or use.
In addition, now is the time to think about giving the place a fresh lick of paint, and fixing those things you’ve been meaning to for ages.
Here are the top 10 improvements to make to your home.
4. Do I need a property survey?
But it is worth commissioning a ‘self-survey’ before putting your existing home on the market too.
It will identify any issues with your property, which you can then potentially deal with before a potential buyer tries to lower their offer price – or pull out entirely.
After all, a bad property survey is one of the biggest reasons why sales fall through.
Here's a host of scenarios where getting a ‘self-survey’ could be well worth the money.
Japanese Knotweed is extremely fast growing and destructive, and can potentially damage house foundations, drainage systems and walls. It can leave your home essentially ‘un-mortgageable’.
But by finding out all you can about the potential existence – and extent – of the plant near your home, you can consider a course of action. This might involve getting a professional eradication plan in place – and one that comes with an expert guarantee.
Be warned though, such a plan could run into thousands of pounds.
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.
It occurs when the ground below your property moves, affecting its stability. Over time, this can cause serious structural damage.
Some insurance companies will refuse to insure a property with subsidence – making it a major turn-off for potential buyers.
If the property survey turns up a serious subsidence problem, you may want to look at ways to deal with the issue, such as underpinning, before putting your home up for sale. But note that fixing the problem is a long and costly process.
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 bigger damp problem.
While some forms of damp can be easily and cheaply fixed, others can be very 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.
Dry rot is a type of fungus that can weaken the timber within a property and spread rapidly.
By getting a surveyor to check out your home using sensitive tools, such as moisture meters, you can confirm the scale of the problem – and the best course of treatment.
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.
Listed properties tend to need a lot more maintenance than a modern home. A property survey should carry out checks such as the integrity and effectiveness of the roof coverings, gutters, downpipes and drains. It should also inspect the condition of the windows and doors.
Find a surveyor who specialises in historic buildings.
Property has not changed hands in a long time
If you have lived in your home for a significant period of time, 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.
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.
How to find a good surveyor
If you are thinking about commissioning a ‘self-survey’, it is worth asking friends, family and colleagues for their recommendations of surveyors and the types of property survey they've had done in the past.
You can search on the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), website, as all members are regulated by a code of conduct.
Alternatively, you can visit Zoopla’s partner, GOTO surveys. This firm offers all types of survey, and employs RICS-accredited surveyors.
5. Check authorisations for any building work
If building work has 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 get the right documents, you may find you have to pay for them retrospectively before agreeing a sale.
6. Find the true value of the property
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, which you can find just below the ‘Agent Valuations’ tool here.
It will give you a guide price calculated using a formula that analyses millions of data points relating to property sales and home features.
Zoopla gets it data from a wide range of sources, including the Government, estate agents, surveyors – and people like you who buy and sell homes.
The accuracy of the tool depends on location and availability in your area. The more data available, the more accurate it is. The tool is super easy to use. Simply type in your postcode, locate your address, and then press ‘get estimate.’
You will be given an estimated property value – along with a value ‘range’ either side of this figure. You will also be given an estimated rental value for your property – should you plan to let it instead.
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.
Nonetheless, 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. The figure should be viewed as a guide price. You should then turn to other sources to find the right asking price.
Contact estate agents through Zoopla
One of the best ways to get an accurate valuation of your home is by asking an estate agent.
They will inspect your home and take into account its unique features, the area and market conditions. A good way to find estate agents in your area is with Zoopla’s AgentFinder tool.
Zoopla has a comprehensive directory of estate agents who you can contact to help you discover what your home is worth for free. They have a great deal of local area expertise, as well as the skills to value your home accurately – and to ensure you set the correct asking price if you’re looking to sell.
Simply type in your postcode, and you can find out 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 modern ‘hidden’ central heating system, including under-floor heating or in-wall heating.
- No major issues such as damp, subsidence, Japanese Knotweed or an insect infestation.
- Being south-facing – as many homeowners believe south-facing gardens are a well sought after asset because they are thought to be warmer and brighter.
- Having fast broadband. Many sellers will avoid properties with sluggish broadband – the ‘fourth utility’ after electricity, gas and water.
- Having an en-suite fitted to one or more of the bedrooms – and having 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.
7. Appoint an agent
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 our 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.
Also ask them 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.
Here's our property expert Phil Spencer's tips on how to choose the right estate agent.
8. Decide on a contract with the estate agent
Before signing on the dotted line with any estate agent, make sure you check the terms of the appointment.
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.
See if you can negotiate on cost – some agents may be willing to do this.
As a rough guide, you can expect to pay between £100 and £1,700 to an online agent, and between £2,000 and £8,000 for a high street agent – but costs can vary.
9. Set a realistic price
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.
10. Market the property
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 tidy for all viewings. Where possible, keep 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.
11. What to look for in a buyer
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 most 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?
Assuming you have no cash buyers, 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, it’s worth finding 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. This 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.
12. Accept an offer
If a potential buyer makes an offer, your estate agent is legally required to pass this 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.
13. Instruct a solicitor
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.
14. Keep things moving
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.
15. Exchange documents
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.
16. Organise the move
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.