Making Sense Of The Murky ‘Sold STC’ Label – A UK Seller’s Guide

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The home buying and selling process comes loaded with industry jargon that often leaves sellers scratching their heads. One of the most head-scratching phrases is ‘sold subject to contract’, typically shortened to sold STC. For UK property sellers unfamiliar with this puzzling label, this guide will explain what sold STC means and its implications.

How Sold STC Differs From a Standard ‘Sold’ Status

Once you accept an offer on your home, the estate agent will likely mark the listing as ‘sold STC’ rather than the regular ‘sold’ designation. But what distinguishes sold STC from a standard sold status?

The key differences are:

  • Sold STC means a legal contract has not yet been signed, so the sale remains unofficial and non-binding. A normal ‘sold’ indicates contracts have been exchanged, making it legally complete.
  • With the sold STC, the buyer’s name will not yet be registered on the property title deeds with the Land Registry. This only happens after completion.
  • No completion funds will have been exchanged yet if sold STC. Only once contracts are signed and exchanged will the money transfer over.
  • Sold STC means the buyer cannot yet pick up the keys and formally take ownership. Contract exchange must occur first.

So in short, sold STC represents a provisional sale agreement, while ‘sold’ means the deal is officially watertight and done.

Why Estate Agents Use the Sold STC Label

There are some key reasons why estate agents specifically use the sold STC designation rather than just labelling a property as sold when an offer is initially accepted:

  • It indicates the sale is progressing but remains incomplete pending contract exchange. This avoids misrepresenting its status.
  • It formally notifies all agents that the property is now technically under offer but not legally sold yet.
  • It signals to any potential buyers still viewing or tracking the property that it is in the process of selling.
  • It satisfies the seller’s desire to mark the home as off the open market once an offer is agreed.
  • It maintains pressure on the buyer and conveyancers to progress the legal work needed to complete the sale.

In summary, sold STC represents the in-between stage after an offer acceptance but before contracts have been prepared, signed and exchanged.

What Happens When a Property is Marked as Sold STC?

Once your home is marked as sold STC by the estate agent, the following has taken place:

  • You have verbally accepted an offer from the buyer, subject to contract.
  • The offer details have been documented in a ‘memorandum of sale’ outlining key terms like price and proposed completion date.
  • You and the buyer have both signed this provisional memorandum of sale agreement.
  • The property is now considered technically ‘under offer’ and will no longer be openly marketed to other potential buyers.
  • The buyer can begin work on arranging any surveys, mortgage finance etc if needed.
  • Your respective conveyancers will now commence legal work towards exchanging contracts.

So sold STC indicates meaningful progress from a verbal offer to a documented pre-contract agreement. However several steps remain before the transaction fully completes.

Why Sold STC Status Benefits You as the Seller

While sold STC does not provide watertight security like an exchanged contract, it does still hold some useful advantages for sellers:

  • It indicates the buyer is serious about purchasing and unlikely to casually withdraw having agreed to STC terms.
  • Marking a property as under offer deters the possibility of being gazumped, as the home is technically off the market.
  • It provides reasonable reassurance that the sale is likely to be completed smoothly.
  • It gets the conveyancing, mortgage and survey process initiated earlier.
  • It maintains pressure on the buyer to satisfy searches, secure finance etc to avoid losing the property.

So although still precarious until exchange, sold STC puts sellers in a strong position with a committed buyer and sales proceedings underway.

Sold STC Timeframes – How Long Does This Phase Usually Last?

There is no set duration for how long a property will sit at the sold STC stage before contracts are formally exchanged. Typically it takes between 6 weeks and 12 weeks but could be as short as 4 weeks or as long as 6 months in certain cases.

The length of time a property remains in sold STC limbo depends on factors like:

  • The speed and workload of both parties’ conveyancers in handling the legal aspects.
  • Any problematic issues flagged in surveys that require resolution before exchange.
  • How quickly the buyer can finalise mortgage finance if needed?
  • Backlogs or delays at local authorities in providing searches.
  • Any points of negotiation that crop up between the buyer and seller.
  • Managing expectations around suitable timeframes and completion dates.

So while sold STC signals progress, it does not guarantee exchange is imminent. However, the length of this precarious phase varies significantly depending on circumstances.

Shepherding the Sale Through the Sold STC Period

For sellers, the sold STC period is often the most nerve-wracking phase of the sales process. However, some proactive steps can help ensure it proceeds smoothly:

  • Promptly provide any documentation or information requested by your conveyancer to avoid hold-ups.
  • Ask your agent for updates on the buyer’s progress chasing surveys, mortgages etc.
  • Resist viewings or consider higher offers now to avoid derailing the sale.
  • Be as flexible as possible around timeframes if reasonable requests are made.
  • Maintain contact with the buyer directly to build rapport if appropriate.
  • Avoid making major changes related to the sale during this unstable period.
  • Have all certificates, and paperwork ready for exchange and completion dates.

Good communication and cooperation between both parties are key to navigating this ambiguous sold STC phase successfully.

Can a Sold STC Sale Fall Through Before Exchange?

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for sales agreed subject to the contract to collapse before exchange. This happens in approximately 1 in 5 transactions that reach the sold STC stage.

Some reasons a sold STC sale could fall through include:

  • The buyer fails to obtain mortgage approval, either in principle or fully.
  • Major issues emerging from survey results that lead to renegotiation or the buyer withdrawing.
  • Slow progress from conveyancers meaning contracts cannot be finalised in time.
  • Challenges proving the seller’s legal title, especially on leasehold homes.
  • The buyer getting cold feet and pulling out of the agreement.
  • Disagreements arise over aspects like fixtures, completion dates etc.
  • A problem with another sale in the chain caused it to break down.
  • The seller is being gazumped if a higher offer emerges.

So while not guaranteed, there are risks even at the sold STC stage that could result in the sale falling through unexpectedly. Sellers should remain cautiously optimistic.

What If Another Offer Comes In Once My Home is Sold STC?

Legally, a seller can still consider new viewings and offers on the property even once sold STC. However, doing so could seriously jeopardise the original sale and bring some drawbacks:

  • It may upset or anger the first buyer who assumed the STC agreement was progressing.
  • Accepting a new offer will likely entail returning the first buyer’s deposit and delaying the exchange.
  • Any new offer may not necessarily be completed any quicker or smoother than the first.
  • You risk coming across as an unreliable seller, making the sale more unstable.

In most cases, sticking with the original STC buyer is advisable for a quicker and simpler sale completion, unless their purchase falls through.

Bringing a Sold STC Sale Successfully to Exchange

To guide an uncertain sold STC status through to a binding exchanged contract, sellers should:

  • Stay in close contact with your conveyancer to keep things moving swiftly.
  • Respond flexibly to reasonable requests from the buyer where possible.
  • Update your agent on progress so they can also reassure and prompt the buyer.
  • Have all paperwork, certificates and keys prepared in advance for completion.
  • Follow your conveyancer’s instructions closely in the lead-up to the exchange.
  • Remain patient and focused on getting across the exchange finish line.

With collaboration between both parties, the exchange of contracts can be successfully achieved even from the precarious sold STC starting point.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this guide has demystified what does sold STC mean for the UK sellers and the typical process that follows. While unstable, a sold STC agreement also represents meaningful sale progress if carefully stewarded through to the exchange finish line. Staying proactive, pragmatic and patient can help sellers navigate this tricky transitory phase.

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