For many home buyers, it’s an upsetting scenario.
You’ve found the perfect home. The home seller verbally accepts your offer, so you begin the process. You survey the new property, sell your old place, and have your solicitor draw up relevant documents. You start to grow excited about your new home. At the last minute, the seller rejects your offer because they’ve just accepted a higher bid. Your costly and stressful search is back at square one.
You’ve been gazumped.
Gazumping (not to be confused with gazundering.) occurs when a seller breaks a verbal agreement on a sale because they’ve accepted a higher offer. It’s possible because verbal agreements, unlike written contracts, are not legally binding. Once written contracts are exchanged, neither party can back out without incurring penalties. But written contracts aren’t typically signed until after buyers go through legal steps, surveys, and land checks. That process can take months and cost hundreds of pounds. And buyers who are gazumped lose all fees they’ve spent so far.
Frustrating as it may be for buyers, gazumping isn’t illegal in England and Wales. (Scotland, however, has a slightly different law.) But buyers can take steps to reduce the chances they’ll be gazumped and make plans for how to respond if it happens to them.
It depends. Most estate agents don’t encourage gazumping but they’re legally obligated to present all offers in writing to sellers. As a result, it’s down to the seller to decide how to move forward. Still, buyers should ask agents their position on gazumping so they’re aware of its likelihood.
A 2018 survey by Emoov.co.uk found that one-quarter of buyers in Britain and Northern Ireland reported being gazumped in the previous two years. Gazumping was most common in London (66%), followed by the North East (22%), the Midlands (21%) and the North West (21%). The good news is that across the UK reports of gazumping dropped 11% from the previous year. The bad news? For Londoners, the level of gazumping jumped 31% from 2017.
Other surveys show different figures but the essential point is that the property market, particularly in England generally and London specifically, is competitive. Unbound by legal restrictions on gazumping, many sellers feel comfortable abandoning verbal agreements for higher offers. Gazumping may feel unethical to buyers, but it’s fully within sellers’ rights.
Typically, you have the opportunity to match or exceed any new - and likely higher - offer. That could trigger a bidding war between you and a new buyer, which isn’t a particularly good scenario for anyone but the buyer. Or you could simply withdraw and restart your search.
It’s tough to completely avoid the possibility of being gazumped. But as a buyer, you can take some steps to minimise the risk.
Ensure your finances are in order when you begin your property search. Know how much you can afford to pay and have the documents to prove it. Make a full accounting of all your cash on hand, income, and debts. It’s also a good idea to have your solicitor in place and a mortgage in principle in hand before you even get to the offer stage. A mortgage in principle is a written estimate from a lender of how much you may be able to borrow.
You could also consider home buyers protection insurance. A basic policy can help you claim back some costs in case you’re gazumped. Policies differ, but most cover sums well into the hundreds of pounds for between 120-180 days. Most policies cost around £50 for a one-off premium.
Buyers should always consult independent financial advisors before beginning their search.
Ready to appoint a conveyancer? Find tips on how to pick the right legal representative for your move, here.
Doing so offers certain advantages. For instance, it means you’re less likely to be stuck in a financial chain, waiting for your old home to sell before being able to pay for your new property. That’ll give you plenty of cash at hand when you make your bid. It also ensures you won’t get stuck paying two mortgages at the same time if you’re unable to sell quickly after agreeing on a new property. Consider renting while you’re searching for a new home.
Only make a realistic offer when you’re confident you’re in a strong buying position and then try to lock in the sale quickly. Research local property prices so that your offer is both in line with your ability to pay and within area expectations. For instance, if you offer far below asking price, the seller may feel justified continuing to search for a buyer willing to pay more. Sometimes, gazumping occurs simply because a seller grows impatient at the pace of a sale. They may drop one offer in favour of another because the latter can act more quickly.
Many buyers forget to ask the seller to do this after acceptance of their offer. If a seller continues to host viewings and get higher bids, it may prove difficult to resist dropping you for a better offer. It won’t matter how much you’ve already spent in upfront costs. Sellers aren’t obligated to remove the property from listings, but it’s worth asking.
All these steps can be made easier if you cultivate a trusting relationship with your seller. Some estate agents and solicitors are wary of having clients in direct contact with each other. But you should still show a genuine interest in the property so the seller knows you’re serious about the investment. Sellers who feel a connection with their buyers may be less likely to gazump them out of a sense of fairness.
Once you’ve established a good foundation, maintain open communication. Let your seller know what steps you’re taking to speed things along. Staying engaged will help ease any concerns about your seriousness and will also help you respond proactively to any issues the seller may have.
Exchange contracts, return all other paperwork, and schedule all surveys and checks without delay. Already having your solicitor and mortgage in principle ready to go can help speed the process. It’s essential that you remain an active part of the process. Regularly check in with and, if necessary, push solicitors, lenders, and surveyors until final contracts are signed and money changes hands. Sellers deeply invested in a sale are less likely to withdraw and start again with another buyer.
The prospect of gazumping can add anxiety to buyers who already feel that many steps in the process are out of their control. But plan your search carefully to reduce your chances of disappointment while also ensuring that you can bounce back if you’re gazumped.
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