Completing the Sale
How Long will it Take?
Some sales complete within seven days, a few have been known to complete within 24 hours. However, such instances are really quite rare. A more usual timescale for a straightforward sale would be four to eight weeks for an exchange of contracts and a further four weeks for completion. A complicated sale could take several times as long as this.
The Importance of Regular Process Chasing
Your sale will not complete within the usual timescale unless you chase it. Some solicitors and mortgage lenders are like wheelbarrows. If you stop pushing you will come back to find that they are still exactly where you left them!
You and your agent need to work together to keep the pressure up. Unfortunately, some agents believe that once an offer has been accepted, their job is done. You must make it very clear to your agent that you will not stand for this. Tell him at the outset that you will expect him to speak to the purchaser, the lending source and both solicitors at least once a week until contracts are exchanged and to report back to you on a weekly basis with a detailed progress report.
Deciding when to take the Property off the Market
Just because you have accepted an offer, there is nothing to say that you should not continue to market your property. Whether or not to do so can be a difficult decision to make. On the one hand you will wish to show your purchaser good faith. On the other you must remind yourself that a third of all sales don't complete. It may be helpful to delay a final decision on this until after you have done three things:
Double-check the chain
Sometimes in the rush to agree an offer, there is not time to check out the chain in as much detail as you would have liked. If this is the case then the time to get the rest of this background information is now. You cannot give your buyer a commitment to take the property off the market until you are absolutely sure that he is in a position to proceed.
Get to know your purchasers
Consider asking the purchasers to visit you again at home as soon as negotiations have been finalised. The visit will give you an excellent opportunity to make a more accurate assessment of the extent to which you feel you can trust them. It will also give you a chance to get to know each other. The quality of the relationship formed between buyer and seller can be a very important factor in preventing unreasonable behaviour later on.
Consider the alternative options
There are many alternatives to the conventional option of a verbal promise to take the property off the market. Each of the following may be appropriate in different circumstances:
A written lock-out agreement
A very nervous buyer might ask you to sign a lock-out agreement. This is a legal contract that prevents you from selling the property to any other party for a specified period (typically 7-28 days). Such an undertaking should only be given to a buyer who is in an excellent position to proceed and then only as a last resort.
A written or verbal agreement to take the property off the market for a given period (typically 7-28 days)
This gives the buyers a head start but leaves you the option to re-market the property at an early date if their buyer has not made satisfactory progress. Such an undertaking can give considerable comfort to a keen buyer who is in a position to proceed.
Left on market but not advertised
This gives the buyer very little comfort or protection. It may be appropriate in a buoyant market or when there are doubts about the buyer's ability to proceed.
Left on market with an assurance that second offers will not be accepted
The buyer is told that you are not seeking a better offer but that you cannot take the risk of taking the property off the market. This undertaking is virtually worthless and you must be sure that it will not deter a buyer from proceeding. It may be appropriate in a rising market, when you are unsure about the buyer or when you need to hurry the buyer to exchange contracts quickly.
Left on market, no promises
Many good buyers may be unwilling to spend money on survey fees and legal fees when there is no guarantee that they will be able to buy the house. Such a solution is usually only possible in a very buoyant market or with a buyer who is not in a position to proceed.
Whichever option you choose it is vital to keep your word once you have given it. A buyer who is told that a house has been taken off the market will be furious if he sees it advertised the following week. A great many sales fall through because the purchaser is given cause to believe that he cannot trust the vendor to keep his word.