Navigating The ‘Under Offer’ Phase: Unravelling UK Property Purchase Mysteries

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The moment a seller accepts an offer on their property can spark a mixture of emotions – excitement, relief, sadness, and uncertainty. While accepting an offer marks a major milestone in the home-selling journey, the work is far from over. The time between having an offer accepted and completing the sale – known as the ‘under offer’ or ‘sale agreed’ phase – can be a stressful period for sellers. This transitional stage is shrouded in mystery, leaving many sellers unsure what to expect.

What Does ‘Under Offer’ Mean for UK Property Sales?

When an offer has been made on a property and the seller has accepted it, the property is deemed ‘under offer’ or ‘sale agreed’. This means the seller is taking the property off the market and a sales process is now in motion leading to completion.

During this period, the buyer will arrange various surveys and valuations on the property. The solicitors/conveyancers on both sides will also initiate searches and carry out the legal work required for the transfer of ownership.

Although you have grasped the concept of what does under offer mean, let us see what is really does? The ‘under offer’ phase bridges the gap between having an offer accepted and the sale being legally finalised or ‘completed’. It is a critical stage that sets the wheels of the transaction in motion. For sellers, it signals the beginning of the end of their ownership of that property.

Why the Under Offer Stage Can Feel Unsettling

For sellers, having a property under offer can be an unsettling time. While an offer acceptance brings a sigh of relief, new stresses may arise around the uncertainty of the sale going through.

Common concerns include:

  • Buyer pulling out – There is still a chance the buyer may withdraw their offer if they change their mind or run into difficulties with securing a mortgage. This risk reduces the closer you get to exchanging contracts.
  • Delays – The under offer process can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks in the UK, sometimes longer. Waiting for surveys, searches and the legal process to unfold can be frustrating.
  • Getting ‘gazumped’ – Gazumping is when the buyer decides to pull out and the seller then accepts a higher offer from someone else. Although rare, it can happen.
  • The unknown – Most sellers are unfamiliar with the legal ins and outs of progressing a property sale, making this time filled with uncertainty.

While these concerns are understandable, being aware of what to expect can help sellers feel more in control and prepared during this ‘waiting game’.

Key Steps in the Under Offer Process

The timeline varies, but there is a general sequence of events once an offer is accepted:

  1. Securing a mortgage – If needed, the buyer will apply for a mortgage. This can take 2-4 weeks, sometimes longer.
  2. Carrying out surveys – The buyer will commission physical surveys on the property to assess its condition and identify any issues. These usually take 1-2 weeks.
  3. Conveyancing searches – The solicitors will initiate various legal searches relating to the property and land, checking for any restrictions, planning issues, etc. Around 2-4 weeks.
  4. Signing contracts – Once all searches are complete and the mortgage offer received, contracts can be prepared. The deal becomes legally binding once contracts have been signed and exchanged.
  5. Completion day – The buyer pays the full amount and becomes the new owner. Keys are handed over.

For sellers, steps 1-3 are the main parts of the under offer phase. The period between offer acceptance and exchanging contracts is when most delays or problems crop up. Understanding what the buyer needs to do during this time helps manage expectations.

Handling the Uncertainty of the Under Offer Period

For many sellers, the under offer phase is a challenging waiting game filled with nerves and uncertainty. Here are some tips for coping:

  • Stay in touch – Keep lines of communication open with your estate agent and solicitor. Request regular updates on progress so you feel informed.
  • Plan – Treat this as a countdown period – start packing, book removals, and change utility bills. Preparing for the completion day will keep you focused.
  • Don’t bank on the money – As tempting as it is, don’t spend the money until contracts have been signed and the deal is legally binding.
  • Keep property immaculate – Make sure you keep the property in show condition, just in case any repeat viewings are needed.
  • Have a backup plan – As a precaution, have a backup plan should the sale fall through e.g. be prepared to re-list the property.
  • Celebrate milestones – Mark achievements like completed surveys to stay positive during the lulls.

While the under offer stage can be unsettling, seeing it as a stepping stone on the path to completion day can help sellers keep perspective and feel more in control.

Factors That Can Delay the ‘Under Offer’ Process

Sellers need to be realistic – the under offer phase rarely goes 100% smoothly. Delays or issues can arise that hold up progress and extend this period. Some common factors include:

  • Buyer’s mortgage – If the buyer’s mortgage falls through, they may need time to reapply or arrange finance.
  • Property defects – Problems flagged in surveys need addressing, such as replacing a roof. Negotiations around this can cause delays.
  • Legal complications – Queries arising from conveyancing searches that need resolving e.g. boundary disputes.
  • Chain issues – If the buyer is also selling, delays with their purchase can impact your sale.
  • Solicitor delays – Overloaded or inefficient solicitors on either side can drag out the legal elements.
  • Covid-19 – The pandemic has caused major delays across purchases due to lockdown restrictions.

It’s stressful when hiccups arise, but by anticipating delays sellers can be mentally prepared and remain flexible. Good communication is key.

Exchanging Contracts – What it Means

Exchanging contracts represents a major milestone and signals the under offer phase is nearly complete. It marks the point where the deal becomes legally binding.

What happens when contracts are exchanged:

  • Both parties are now legally committed to the sale.
  • The buyer pays their deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price).
  • The completion date is agreed upon.
  • Both parties can face financial penalties if they pull out after exchanging.
  • The buyer can take possession from this point if the sellers allow it.
  • Ownership officially transfers on completion, not exchange.

Exchanging contracts gives sellers greater security and confirmation that the buyer is committed. It’s a big step closer to the finish line.

Preparing the Property for Handover Before Completion

  • Once contracts have been exchanged, the buyer has a set completion date. As this date approaches, sellers should start preparing the property for the handover.
  • Declutter everywhere – Remove all excess furniture, personal belongings and junk. The property should be empty aside from fixtures and fittings included in the sale.
  • Deep clean the entire property – Pay special attention to carpets, windows, kitchen and bathrooms. Leave it sparkling for the new owners.
  • Tidy up outdoors – Make sure the garden, driveways and outdoor areas look neat.
  • Check inventory and fixtures/fittings – Confirm all items listed in the property details are still in place and working order. Replace or fix anything broken or missing.
  • Change utilities – Notify your providers well in advance to cancel or transfer services like broadband, phone, and TV packages on the completion date.
  • Redirect mail – Use the Post Office redirection service to forward your mail to your new address.
  • Verify logistics for moving day – Confirm the arrival time of the removal team, and get everything ready to load onto the van.

The preparation leading up to the handover will make the completion day less stressful and ensure the buyers receive the property in perfect condition.

Completion Day – What Sellers Need to Know

After weeks or months in conveyancing, completion day finally arrives. As a seller, here’s what to expect on the big day:

  • Your solicitor will confirm completion has taken place and sale proceeds have been received – this often happens around midday.
  • The estate agent will contact you to return the keys to the property.
  • You must vacate the property and remove all belongings by the completion time agreed – usually between 1-3 pm.
  • The new owner can collect the keys and take possession from the agreed completion time.
  • You should do a final thorough check of the property and grounds before leaving.
  • The removal company will arrive as scheduled to collect your belongings.

While completion day can be hectic for sellers as you hand over the keys, it also brings huge relief that the property sale is safely over the finish line after a long conveyancing process.

Avoiding Disputes After Completion Day

The elation of completion day can quickly turn sour if disputes arise around the property after the sale. As a seller, you remain liable for certain obligations.

Some potential issues to avoid:

  • Misleading information – If the buyer can prove false information was included in the property details or fixtures/fittings list you remain liable.
  • Failure to vacate on time – Ensure you fully vacate the property by the agreed completion time or you may face financial penalties.
  • Outstanding utility/council tax bills – Inform providers well in advance so final bills are issued in your name, not the new owner’s.
  • Damage during moving – Take care when removing furniture or bulky items to avoid damaging walls, carpets, doors etc.

While rare, disputes can get costly if they require legal intervention after completion. Being organised, transparent and communicative avoids complications.

Moving House After Completing a Property Sale

Selling one property and moving into another is double the work – and double the stress! Here are some tips for a smooth move if relocating after completion:

  • Use a single removal company – Have one company move you out in the morning and then to your new home in the afternoon. Easier logistics.
  • Factor in timing – Ensure enough time between vacating your old property and gaining access to the new one. Rushed overlaps can be chaotic.
  • Keep stuff packed – As much as possible, transport belongings directly from the old house to the new without unpacking in between if it’s one day. Far less upheaval.
  • Get help – Recruit friends or family to assist with the mammoth task of packing and carrying items.
  • Change essentials early – Set up new utility accounts, internet and phone ahead of moving so they are connected on completion day.
  • Forward mail ASAP – Make sure mail redirection kicks in immediately after you move so important correspondence follows you.

With planning and support, sellers can manage the intense pressures of completing a sale while moving into their next chapter.

In Summary – Top Tips for Selling Property

For anyone preparing to sell their home, here are some key tips to progress smoothly through the ‘under offer’ phase:

  • Stay on top of regular updates from your agent and conveyancer.
  • Prepare early for the handover – declutter, clean and sort utilities.
  • Be flexible and have a backup plan if delays arise.
  • Celebrate milestones like surveys being done to stay positive.
  • Agree on a fair completion time and thoroughly check the property before handing over the keys.
  • Ensure you vacate fully by the agreed time and avoid any post-sale disputes.
  • If relocating, use a single removal firm and have help packing/moving.

While selling a property can be a bumpy ride, understanding what to expect from the under offer process helps sellers feel informed and in control. With preparation and patience, you will navigate the mysteries and challenges successfully to completion day!

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