Step-by-step guide to selling a house
Selling a house and moving to a new property can be much more complicated than buying your first home. As well as marketing and selling your property, you'll need to work out your financial options, not to mention timing things right with the home you want to move to.
It can be a lot to juggle, to say the least - but help is at hand.
Our step-by-step guide to selling a house explains everything you'll need to do, and the rough order you should do it in.
- Are you a landlord? Our separate guide to selling a buy-to-let property contains extra advice.
1. Get your finances in order
First, you need to work out whether you can genuinely afford to sell up and move.
If you’re still within your existing mortgage term, you should check whether you'll face any early repayment charges for breaking the deal or any fees to take it with you to a new property - a process known as porting.
If you’re planning to move to a more expensive property, you should find out how much you can borrow and which lender will offer you the best deal.
It's well worth getting expert advice from an independent mortgage broker such as Which? Mortgage Advisers at this stage so you can find out exactly how much you could borrow for your next home.
2. Make your home looks its best
The next step is to spruce up your property so it's ready for valuations and viewings.
Make sure your property is clean, tidy and free from clutter. This will give potential buyers a blank canvas to imagine how they would use the space.
It should also look good from the outside. Mow the lawn, pull out the weeds, clean the windows and repair any broken gates or fences.
If your home is a bit run down you may want to consider some home improvements - but it's worth getting an estate agent's opinion on whether it's worth the expenditure (see next step).
Kitchen renovations are huge, expensive projects, whereas giving things a fresh coat of paint and replacing handles and doors can be just as effective and much cheaper.
If you think your home may have any major issues that could put buyers off, consider getting a house survey done so that you have independent confirmation of the extent of the problems, plus potential repair costs. You can then make a call on whether to fix things or factor future costs for a buyer into your asking price.
The images below show an example of a kitchen and living room before and after being decluttered by firm Doctor Photo. Use the sliding tool to see how small tweaks can improve the look of a home.
Images courtesy of Swift Property
3. Get your property valued
Setting the right asking price for your home is crucial. Too high and you'll risk putting people off (and also won't appear in portal results when buyers have set price caps on their searches); too low and you might end up selling for much less than you could have got.
Spend time researching how much your house is worth based on recent local market activity, and invite three local estate agents round to value your property.
Make sure you pick agents with proven track records of selling properties like yours in your area. You can use our estate agent comparison tool, in partnership with GetAgent, to explore this and get quotes.
Grill each agent on why they think your home is worth the amount they've suggested and ask for examples of how much similar local properties have sold for in the last few months.
4. Set an asking price
While estate agents can advise you, it's entirely up to you what asking price you set for your property.
If all of the estate agents have given you similar valuations, you can be fairly confident that they're correct and base your decision on their recommendations.
But if there are big differences between the valuations you received, it can be hard to know what to do.
Some estate agents have been found to overvalue properties in order to win business. It can be tempting to choose the firm claiming they can get you thousands more for your home, but setting an unrealistic asking price can waste time and put buyers off even viewing a property.
In this situation you should set an asking price based on a combination of the average valuation you've received and recent selling prices of properties similar to yours.
A final note on asking prices: properties are sometimes advertised for 'offers in excess of (OIEO)' or 'offers over' rather than just the asking price itself. You can describe your asking price however you like but remember that it is just that - and a buyer is still free to offer less.
5. Instruct an estate agent (or alternative)
Even if you've received valuations from local estate agents, you might choose to sell your home in a different way. You can find out about the most common options and their pros and cons in our guides:
If you decide to sell through an estate agent, make sure you compare fees and haggle for a better deal - not only on the fee but tie-in and notice periods, too.
Once you've chosen which company to use, you'll sign a contract which lays out the terms under which they'll sell your home - this is known as 'instructing'.
- Find out more: comparing and negotiating agent fees and contracts
6. Help prepare the marketing materials
Once you've instructed an estate agent, they should send a photographer to take professional pictures of your home.
Make sure it's spotless and clutter-free, even if it means shifting things from one room to another between photos. Check that toilet lids are closed, bedspreads smoothed and cushions plumped, and keep decorative flourishes simple: think a vase of flowers or fruit bowl (plain colour schemes work best - e.g. just pink tulips or green apples).
Your estate agent will also arrange for a floorplan to be created and write a description to accompany the listing. It's worth asking to check this before it's published and flagging if there's anything wrong or missing.
Once the marketing materials are ready, your estate agent should list your property online (Rightmove is the property portal with the most visits so it's important to be listed on there, as well as your agent's own website and other portals such as Zoopla or OnTheMarket).
7. Get your paperwork in order
If you get your paperwork sorted out early, it will help things move along more quickly. Click on the downloadable checklist below for a list of all the documents you might need, and check out our guide to energy performance certificates (EPCs) as you'll need one to be able to sell.
8. Conduct or work around viewings
If you're using a high-street agent, they should offer to conduct viewings on your behalf. This is a great option as they'll know how to show your property in its best light and buyers may feel more comfortable looking at things in detail and asking questions. If possible, make sure you're out of the house while viewings take place.
If you're conducting viewings yourself, think carefully about the order in which you'll show the rooms and any features you'd like to draw buyers' attention to. Do a practice run with a friend so you can get their opinion on your spiel and become comfortable giving the tour.
9. Hire a solicitor or conveyancer
Conveyancing - the legal process of transferring a property from one person to another - is far from the most exciting part of moving house, but it's important that you find a solicitor or licensed conveyancer to take care of this vital job.
If you've got one in place before you accept an offer, this can help speed things up and also demonstrates to the buyer that you're organised and serious about selling.
10. Reassess if your home isn’t selling
If your property has been on the market for a while and you haven't received any offers, talk to your estate agent and get their take on what's going wrong.
It may be that you need to lower your price, use a different photo for the online listing's main image, or take your home off the market and wait for market conditions to improve.
It might also be that your estate agent simply isn't working hard enough. As most estate agent contracts include a set notice period, act fast if you want to switch agents so your property isn't left languishing on the market for several extra weeks before another firm can relist it.
- Find out more: 7 reasons why your house isn’t selling
11. Receive offers
Your estate agent should inform you as soon as any offers are made.
If you receive multiple offers, get the estate agent to do some digging into each bidder's situation, as there are more factors to take into consideration than simply how much each party is offering.
It's worth thinking about who's least likely to pull out, perhaps due to nerves, mortgage problems or their own sale falling through, and who can move at the same pace as you (if you're in a rush, are they?).
- Chain-free cash buyers - for example a buy-to-let investor who doesn't need a mortgage, or someone who's already sold their previous home and doesn't need a mortgage to buy yours.
- Home movers who’ve already sold and completed (or at least exchanged on) their sale.
- First-time buyers - chain-free but usually reliant upon a large mortgage - or buy-to-let investors using a mortgage to fund the purchase.
- Home movers who've sold subject to contract (SSTC) - i.e. they've accepted an offer but haven't yet exchanged - and can either pay 100% cash or with a small mortgage.
- Home movers who have SSTC but need a big mortgage to pay for your property.
- Home movers who have not yet sold their home.
12. Accept an offer - or negotiate
Buyers will often offer less than the asking price, meaning you need to weigh up whether it's worth negotiating - either refusing the offer in the hope that they'll increase it, or suggesting a compromise price.
It can feel like you're playing a game of chicken, seeing who will cave first. Hold your nerve but be realistic, and think about the following factors before making a decision:
- Is the amount they're offering enough for you to be able to afford your next property?
- How fair is the offer: is it close to your estate agent's valuation of the property and other recent selling prices for similar properties in your area?
- Was the low offer made because the buyer would need to do structural work? If so, you could suggest agreeing a price based on the results of the survey (assuming they're going to have one done).
- What is the buyer's situation? (See list above.)
- How quickly do you need to sell?
- How likely do you think they are to increase their offer?
- How long has your property been on the market?
- Are there any other potential interested buyers?
- What is the market like in your area - are others struggling to sell?
- Have you already reduced your asking price?
Ask your estate agent's advice, too. If their fee is based on a percentage of the selling price it's in their interest to get as much as possible for your property - but they won't want you to hold out for such a high figure that the property doesn't sell at all.
13. Start house-hunting
Although it's worth registering with estate agents and setting up alerts on property portals before you've accepted an offer, it's safest to start house-hunting in earnest once your own property is under offer (SSTC).
This will place you in a better position if you find a home that multiple people are interested in - and in fact, in very competitive markets, estate agents won't show you properties until you've gone under offer anyway.
It also avoids the heartache of falling in love with a property but having it snatched from under your nose by someone who's ready to move.
- Find out more: how to manage a property chain
14. Keep things moving
Make sure your buyer understands exactly what’s included in the price, including fixtures and fittings.
Establish likely dates for exchange and completion - this will avoid arguments further down the line.
It's worth drawing up an agreed note of your plans with the buyer. While this won't be legally binding, it can make people less likely to delay or pull out.
Remember to keep communicating throughout this period. If you're going on holiday, make sure everyone knows, including your conveyancer and estate agent. If you don't hear anything for a couple of weeks, contact them for an update.
If there are any aspects of the sale or purchase that you don't understand, ask - that's what you're paying your conveyancer for.
15. Exchange and complete
Exchanging contracts is a key milestone when you're selling your house, as it's the moment when your buyer pays a deposit and things become legally binding.
If you're buying another property, make sure you have buildings insurance in place from this date onwards.
The day you complete is the moment you've been working towards, when you'll have finally sold your home. You'll need to move all your belongings out promptly and drop your key at the estate agent's, ready for them to give to your buyer.
If you're buying a property too, it's easiest if you can complete your purchase on the same day as you complete your sale - that way you can move all your belongings from A to B without needing to put them in storage.
- Find out more: packing and preparing to move house
Video: how to sell a house
Property expert Tracy Kellett, a former estate agent who now owns and runs buying agency BDI Homefinders, has moved home more than 30 times - so she knows a thing or two about selling houses. In this video, she shares her tips on how to get a quick sale and secure the best price for your property.
Case study videos: things we wish we'd known before moving house
In these videos, people who've sold up and moved to a new house share what they wish they'd known before starting the process. Learn from their mistakes so your own move is less stressful.