Safeguarding Your Property Sale: Understanding The Sale Of Memorandum In The UK

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Selling a property in the UK can be a complex process with many legal formalities to navigate. One key document that provides important protections for sellers is the sale of memorandum. This short preliminary contract sets out the basic terms agreed between the seller and buyer at the initial stage. Understanding the roles and limitations of the sale of the memorandum is crucial when progressing through a property transaction in the UK market.

In this in-depth guide, we will examine what a sale of the memorandum is, why it is used in property sales, what key provisions it contains, limitations to be aware of, best practices when completing it, and what the future may holds for this important sales document. Whether you are a first-time seller or an experienced property investor, gaining a fuller perspective on the sale memorandum will help safeguard your interests during the property disposal process.

Defining the Sale of Memorandum

Known informally as “the memo of sale”, this document records the core agreed terms between seller and buyer before contracts are drawn up and exchanged. It provides a basic framework for the sale moving forward.

The sale of the memorandum is distributed for signing after both parties have verbally agreed on fundamental terms like price and address. It then acts as an official record of this agreement being reached, while also giving some limited protection should one party withdraw unexpectedly.

In essence, it represents the meeting of minds between the potential buyer and seller over the key sale particulars before solicitors become involved in handling the fuller contracts and conveyancing. It marks a pivotal moment when the sale transitions from informal initial discussions to a mutual commitment in principle between parties.

Why Use a Sale of Memorandum?

There are several important reasons why executing a sale of memorandum represents a key step in the UK home selling process:

  • It provides a written record of what has been informally agreed for reference and accountability.
  • It offers the seller some recourse if the buyer later withdraws without good reason.
  • It gives a defined cooling-off period for both parties to reconsider the proposed transaction.
  • It supports obtaining local authority searches and initiating conveyancing formalities.
  • It provides certainty over agreed prices and conditions to aid planning.
  • It discourages the buyer from negotiating with other sellers during conveyancing.
  • It provides proof needed for the seller to take their property off the market.

While not legally binding in the manner of a full contract, the sale memorandum gives a solid starting framework and some protections to move the sale forward.

Key Contents of the Sale Memorandum

Though a brief one-page document, the sale of memorandum contains some important defined terms:

  • Details of buyer and seller – Names and addresses.
  • Property address and description – Type, unique identifiers, associated land.
  • Sale price – Agreed amount and deposit to be paid.
  • Proposed completion date – Target date for finalising the sale.
  • Special conditions – Any particular terms agreed by parties.
  • Signatures – Signatures of both buyer and seller.
  • Date – To track the beginning of the cooling off and conveyancing periods.

The memo should accurately reflect what has been mutually discussed and acknowledged between the parties at that stage. It can also include extra conditions such as subject to survey or subject to contract to provide more flexibility.

Limitations and Risks of Relying on the Sale Memorandum

While useful, it is important to recognise the sale memorandum does have some limitations:

  • It is not a comprehensive contract, just a basic initial framework.
  • The buyer can still withdraw and only forfeit the deposit paid in most cases.
  • It may not consider all scenarios that emerge later like gazumping.
  • Specific terms around access, fixtures, etc will need addressing later.
  • Conveyancing and mortgage documentation are still required.
  • It can be open to dispute if hastily completed with errors.
  • Offers limited options if a buyer does not cooperate beyond the cooling-off period.

Due to these limitations, the sale memorandum should not be considered a full guarantee. It forms a supportive first step, but sellers should still be cautious until contracts are formally exchanged.

Best Practices When Completing the Sale Memorandum

To gain maximum protection from the sale of the memorandum, sellers should observe some best practices:

  • Carefully check all details like price and property description before signing.
  • Ensure buyer details are definite and they have the funds to proceed.
  • Note your right to keep marketing during the cooling-off period.
  • Set a reasonable proposed completion date you are confident meeting.
  • Avoid very long or open-ended cooling-off periods.
  • Make subject to contract/survey conditions clear if included.
  • Ensure signatures are properly witnessed if possible.
  • Retain your copy of the document safely.
  • Appoint your solicitor/conveyancer as soon as signed.

Following these steps will help avoid issues and keep the sale on track from the initial memorandum stage.

Consequences of Buyer Withdrawing After Signing

If a buyer does retract their intent to purchase after signing the memorandum, there are several implications:

  • The buyer forfeits the initial deposit paid as noted in the terms.
  • The seller is then free to put the property back on the market.
  • The cooling-off period must lapse before the deposit can be claimed.
  • Legal action could be pursued to reclaim damages beyond the deposit.
  • The buyer may be liable for any seller costs like surveys if they withdrew negligently.
  • It brings into question the seriousness of the buyer if they change their mind.

While not ideal, withdrawal does not necessarily end the sale. The seller can aim to secure a new buyer and make a claim against the original buyer for losses where evidence allows.

What Does the Future Hold for the Sale Memorandum?

Looking ahead, it seems likely the sale of the memorandum will remain an integral part of UK property transactions for several reasons:

  • It formalises the shift from casual sale discussions to a structured process.
  • It fits compatibly with established UK conveyancing procedures and terminology.
  • It aligns with wider UK contractual principles of offer and acceptance.
  • It provides a balanced compromise of flexibility and commitment between parties.
  • Most sellers and buyers are familiar with the roles and limitations of the document.
  • No obvious alternatives have emerged to make it obsolete in the home sale process.

However, some changes that could emerge include:

  • Further standardisation of templates used across the industry.
  • Inclusion of electronic signature options and digital formats.
  • Explicit guidance on timeframes, cooling off periods and overarching sale principles.
  • Greater integration with case management and administration systems used by legal professionals when onboarding new clients.
  • Provisions to account for emerging new sale methods like online auctions and bidding processes.

Barring a wider overhaul of UK property buying and selling, the trusty sale of the memorandum looks poised to continue safeguarding sellers at the first stage for the foreseeable future.


The sale of memorandum remains a useful contractual tool for UK home sellers seeking early commitment from buyers in the convoluted property disposal process. While basic, it provides vital written evidence that terms have been mutually accepted before the conveyancing machine fully engages. For sellers, taking care to maximise protections when completing the document helps lock in the buyer and adds an extra safeguard should they reconsider down the line. Given its simple purpose of bridging informal discussions with formal contracts, the sale memorandum format looks set to withstand technological changes and continues playing this key introductory role. Most sellers can feel more confident progressing from a point of agreement knowing this first footprint of terms is securely in place until the point of contract exchange.

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