The UK house sales process is notoriously slow. In 2019, the average time to sell a house was over four months — and that’s for a straightforward sale. Factor in common problems that can arise when selling on the open market, such as house chain collapses, and the time between a property hitting the market and reaching legal completion can be a lot longer.
There is no simple answer to the question, “How long does it take to sell a house?” The market is in constant flux and the answer changes all the time. Since COVID-19 landed on our shores in January 2020, the house sales process has become even more protracted due to a backlog of transactions and surging demand for property.
In this guide, our property experts will provide an overview of the timeline for selling a house in the UK, highlight common causes of delays and offer some tips on how to speed up the house sale process.
The House Selling Process
Why does it take so long to buy or sell a house? What are the essential steps of the house selling process? The journey from offer to legal completion on a house can seem somewhat mysterious, especially to first-time-sellers.
We’ve broken down the key stages of the process for you. While the pre-marketing stages are not factored into statistics relating to how long it takes to sell a house, these will add to the duration between the decision to sell and a completed transaction, so they are worth considering.
- Apply for an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). Every seller must provide the buyer with a certificate that details the energy efficiency of the property. A homeowner must have at least applied for an EPC before putting their property on the market.
- Prepare Your Home for Sale. You may choose to complete basic repairs and home improvements to increase the chances of your property selling quickly and for a good price.
- Have Your Home Valued. Ask several estate agents to value your property. Valuations can vary significantly and some unscrupulous agents will quote an inflated figure to secure your business. You should also do your own research by looking at similar properties locally. If a property has been on the market for some time without selling, there is a good chance it is priced too high.
- Hire a Conveyancing Solicitor. You will need to engage the services of a conveyancing solicitor to manage all the legal formalities of selling your property. There is no requirement to hire a solicitor before accepting an offer, but it is wise to do so as it can take a little shopping around to find someone you are happy with. Delaying this part of the process until you have agreed on a sale could result in delays and a lost sale.
- Put Your Property on the Market. If you choose to take the traditional route of an on-market sale, you will need to identify an estate agent you are happy with and advertise your home. Take your time choosing; there are plenty of options and a poor estate agent is one common reason for a house not selling. You can choose one of the estate agents who valued your property or a new one. Alternatively, you can opt to sell without an estate agent.
- Host Property Viewings. You can elect to host viewings yourself or ask the estate agent to do so. An open house is an efficient way to offer multiple viewings simultaneously and this can instigate competition that will boost the final sale price. During COVID-19, open houses are prohibited and sellers are being encouraged to offer online viewings where possible.
- Accept an Offer. If you have multiple offers, you will need to weigh up the pros and cons of each. A higher offer is not always the most attractive — a lower offer from a cash buyer may be more appealing than a higher offer from a buyer who is part of a property chain. There may be some negotiation on the final sale price here that your estate agent — if you have elected to use one — will undertake on your behalf. If you have just one offer that is lower than you would like, there may be scope for you and the buyer to meet in the middle. If you are spoilt for choice by attractive offers, negotiations could involve competition between several interested parties.
- Complete the Paperwork. Every house seller in the UK must provide a standardised set of documents to anyone who buys their property. The TA 6 form is a questionnaire that most sellers of freehold properties must complete. It contains questions pertaining to boundaries, disputes, planned developments, council tax, utilities and more. Your conveyancer will be able to guide you through this part of the process.
- Agree on Exchange and Completion Dates. Your solicitor and your buyer’s solicitor will negotiate on your behalf. The discussion will include the length of time between exchange and completion (typically seven to 28 days), what fixtures and fittings will be included in the sale and any re-negotiation of the sale price if the survey reveals significant problems.
- Exchange of Contracts. On the agreed date of exchange, the buyer pays a deposit to the seller. At this point, the sale becomes legally binding and both parties must see the transaction through to completion.
- Vacate the Property and Complete the Sale. If you are selling one property to fund the purchase of another, you will have to complete and move on the same day. This can be stressful and if it is possible to avoid this, you’ll be grateful that you did! Completion is when the balance of the agreed sale price leaves the buyer’s account and the property changes ownership. Your solicitor will register this with the Land Registry and pay off your mortgage using funds from the buyer.
- Pay Your Solicitor and Estate Agent. You will receive an invoice for any outstanding fees, which must be paid in full.
Looking at the house sale process broken down like this, it’s a little easier to understand why it can take so long! And of course, your buyer must progress through a number of stages too. In brief, these stages include:
- Finding the Right Property.
- Getting a Mortgage in Principle.
- Making an Offer.
- Instructing a Conveyancer.
- Having a Survey and Searches Done.
- Exchange and Completion.
Potential Problems and Delays
Several problems can arise if you choose to sell on the market, many of which stem from property chains that involve numerous transactions that all rely on each other. Picture a set of dominoes neatly lined up — if one goes they all go! Potential causes of delays include:
- Property Development Delays — if you are selling your home to fund the purchase of a new build, you may be forced to delay the exchange of contracts if your new home is not ready in time.
- Your Buyer Is Currently Renting — buyers will typically be advised not to give notice on their rented accommodation until the exchange of contracts has taken place and the seller can no longer legally back out of the deal. This could result in a delay of several months or however long your buyer’s notice period is.
- Gazumping — this occurs when a seller accepts an offer then decides to reject it in favour of a higher bid that comes in subsequently. This is more of a problem for buyers than sellers, but if you are selling a property to buy another, you could be gazumped, which will mean delaying the sale of your current home.
- The Seller of Your New Home Cannot Find Somewhere to Buy — if you are selling to buy another property, you may need to delay the sale of your home if the person you are buying from cannot find a property they wish to buy.
- A Broken Property Chain — if you are part of a chain and a sale falls through or is delayed further down the line, this will impact your sale. This is the most common cause of delays and failed sales.
- Your Conveyancer — sellers are completely reliant on their conveyancer (and their buyer’s conveyancer) to keep the sale moving forward. Delays can be caused by misplaced title deeds, expired mortgage agreements or an overwhelming workload. House sales are currently taking up to a month longer than before the first lockdown due to the limited availability of conveyancers — demand is far outstripping supply.
- Problems Revealed by the Survey — a survey is not a legal requirement — your buyer can elect to forego this step in the house sales process. — but this is not advisable and few people do so. If the survey throws up an unexpected and significant problem that would cost the buyer a significant sum of money to put right, the sale is likely to be delayed as both sides battle it out and negotiate the sale price. If an agreement cannot be reached, the problems highlighted in the survey could result in a failed sale.
How to Get a Quick House Sale
You can speed up the selling process by planning ahead and completing essential tasks, such as applying for an EPC or making a mortgage application (if you are selling to buy), as early as possible. You should also choose the professionals you work with carefully — will your estate agent do their best to book viewings and negotiate the best sale price for you? Can you rely on your conveyancer to be efficient, or are they swamped in too much work?
Property chain problems are the most common cause of failed sales. Opting for a cash buyer is one of the best ways to minimise the risk of problems and delays. Of course, on the open market, this is easier said than done, as you may not get any interest from cash buyers.
Selling off-market via a reputable cash house buying company is the only way to achieve a guaranteed sale fast. House Buyer Bureau has the funds to buy any type of property, in any condition in England and Wales (and some parts of Scotland) in as little as seven days. Our team of experts provide a professional, honest and transparent service. We are one of a handful of buyers recommended by The Advisory, the impartial authority on house selling.