How Do You Buy And Sell A House At The Same Time?

Ever wondered how it works logistically to buy and sell a house at the same time, we look at how it's done.

In isolation, the process of buying or selling a property can be fraught with setbacks, delays and complications. However, at some stage of your life, it is likely you will have to buy AND sell a property at the same time, and hence the stress levels are turned up to the max. The main issue with this is that the majority of the problems are out of your control and there is very little you can do to speed things up, because you are in a property chain where the slightest delay somewhere along the line has a knock-on effect which gradually filters up to where you are in the chain. 

So if you are looking at buying and selling a house at the same time, you need to be prepared for around 12 months of general upheaval, from the point of getting yourself prepared to put your house on the market to that longed-for moment when you have moved into your new home and can close the door and enjoy it. This process is rarely plain sailing, but there are things you can do to mitigate the problems and stress, and this is what we are going to look at now.  

Why is buying and selling a house at the same time difficult?

The problem, in a very simple sense, is that people are different and have different ambitions and circumstances. So a married couple might be desperate to move into your home, having agreed a price with you and started the ball rolling, but you then struggle to find a property you really want and start to try and stall the process. Alternatively, you are very keen to sell because you have seen the property of your dreams and want to get moving, but the only person who has put a bid in on your home hasn’t even agreed a mortgage yet and the offer is £5,000 below your asking price. So that sale could take a long time to go through. These are not uncommon scenarios, and unfortunately, when you are in a property chain things happen at different speeds and there are many different variables such as people, property locations and finances which mean that anything could happen at any time, and you simply have to keep juggling the balls to keep your process going.

A third, and arguably worst-case scenario, is that in the second case above, the seller of your dream home gets frustrated by the delays and accepts an offer from someone else. Or in the first case, your buyer pulls out because the process isn’t moving fast enough for them. In these instances you can very easily waste a couple of months and still find yourself back where you started. 

Of course if you are a first-time buyer you can avoid all this. Or if you are buying a second home, or are selling a property on behalf of a relative who has sadly passed away. These are isolated, singular transactions in which you can avoid having to get involved in a property chain. But also these are scenarios which can break a chain, and hence these kind of buyers or sellers become more appealing because there are no dependent transactions after them. They are effectively the ‘end of the chain’ and should in theory lead to a simpler and more cohesive process involving much fewer variables.

Preparing to buy and sell your home

While there are many processes, transactions and decisions taking place concurrently when buying and selling a house at the same time, the only thing you can do to speed things up is be organised. This doesn’t just mean having all your documents in a neat and tidy folder, it means having all the things you can control in place and ready to go when the time is right. It would be criminal for you to be the cause of a delay when you are desperate to keep things ticking over quickly. So how do you get yourself prepared for buying and selling a property at the same time?

  • Get a valuation

Once you have decided to go for it and put your house on the market, get a valuation. In fact, get three, so you know that you are receiving an accurate market valuation for your property and not a false one from an estate agent who is keen to shift your property and make money from it. This valuation will help you set a fair and realistic asking price which should help you attract bidders and expedite the sale of the property. 

  • Sort your finances out

This is quite a broad subject area in the sense that everybody has different financial circumstances, but effectively you need to work out what savings, investments and debts you have and what liquid ‘cash’ you have to play with. You need to work out what equity you have on your home which can be transferred against the value of your next home. This should enable you to work out what kind of mortgage you can afford and therefore what standard or type of property you can look for. You will also need cash for a deposit on your next home, and while ‘exchanges’ usually happen on the same day and hence the deposit you receive for your home can be used as the deposit on your next home, there may be a differential if you are up-sizing properties and hence you might need to find a chunk of cash. There are also the many costs of moving to consider, including stamp duty and legal fees etc. 

  • Look at mortgages

While this is obviously linked to your finances, it is a separate process because you need to secure an agreement with a mortgage lender. Will you be transferring your existing mortgage or applying for a new one? Check out the terms and conditions of your existing deal and take some advice from a mortgage broker. They will be able to advise you on the best way to proceed and where the best deals may be. It is a good time to re-evaluate where you are financially and re-structuring your mortgage deal could put you in a better place generally. Whichever way you go, you need to secure an ‘agreement in principle’ with a lender so that you know how much money you have available and that it is secure, agreed, accessible and ready to go. This is good collateral and will help you in your house-buying negotiations. 

  • Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

This is the energy rating of your property and is needed in order to be able to sell it. The process isn’t costly but can take a few weeks to arrange. There is no minimum EPC rating required to sell a house, unlike when you are renting a house, but the EPC needs to be available to show prospective buyers so needs to be in place before putting the house on the market. 

  • Preparing the home

When you have lived in a property for a long time you can lose sight of how it looks to other people. So you need to re-address this and maximise the property’s appeal. This can mean de-cluttering and throwing un-used and untidy things out, re-decorating and improving the external visage of the house. It is statistically proven that the ‘kerb appeal’ of a home is a critical factor in turning potential buyers off a property before they’ve even seen inside, so get this right and spend a bit of money pointing the brickwork, repairing guttering or even just weeding the driveway.

  • Get in the professionals

The many costs of buying and selling a home include the team of professionals you really can’t do without. These include a mortgage broker as outlined above, an estate agent (compare different ones and look at their record for selling similar homes in similar areas to yours) and a solicitor (you may have one you have used and trust from previously, but check their expertise in conveyancing as this is a specialist legal area). Getting these people in place and ready to move can save you a couple of weeks in the process. 

Selling your property

In a scenario where you are looking to buy AND sell a property, most people look to sell their property first. This is because this process generally takes longer as you have to attract buyers and bids. In simple terms, you know what you want in a property, but you don’t know what other people want. So it is easier and quicker for you to find a house to buy rather than attract someone to buy yours. This is not to say that you can’t do it the other way around and put an offer in for a property you love BEFORE you have accepted an offer on yours. It can be done, but it is perhaps more open to delays and complications if you are trying to keep a seller satisfied while you try and sell your house, and it also puts you at a disadvantage in negotiations with a seller if your own home is not ‘under offer’. In this scenario the seller may see you as an undesirable buyer because of potential delays and therefore may find a lower bid from a buyer who is further along the house-selling process more appealing. 

From the point of listing your property on the market to accepting an offer can take a couple of months or a couple of weeks. It depends on the local market, the desirability of your property and the asking price you are looking for. In 2022 there is currently a lack of supply of good housing stock, which puts the seller at an advantage. This means you can afford to haggle a little and choose a buyer who suits your circumstances ie. someone who has their house under offer if you want to move quickly, or someone who has put in the highest bid if time is not so much of a factor for you. 

Buying your property

Unfortunately, while you are at an advantage in the market as a seller, the opposite is true when you become a buyer. The property market is very competitive with limited supply, so you need to be savvy and alert to opportunities. You should already be active in the market while you are selling your property and be ready to spring into action once you have a concrete offer accepted. This can be nerve-racking but it is possible to juggle both balls and be decisive, or even take a measured gamble, when you need to. What is definitely true is that you are in a stronger position as a buyer if your home is already under offer. It gives you leeway to negotiate and maybe agree a quick sale at a lower price if the seller is willing and keen to move quickly. If you are looking to buy a property without having accepted a bid on your own, you are at a disadvantage and the seller will be looking ideally to sell to someone else who can reach completion quicker.  

Get notifications set-up for local estate agents and online property sites so you see new properties which suit your remit as soon as they come on the market. Once you have found a property and are considering putting a bid in, re-check your finances. A lot might have happened since you last evaluated your financial position in terms of costs going out and the price you eventually agreed for selling your home. Is the mortgage agreement in principle still valid and realistic? The property you have found may also need some work doing to it. That might only amount to £5,000 or something in that region, but that is money you may not have allowed for previously and will have to find now. 

All systems go

Once you have an offer accepted on the house you want, you could ask the seller to take the property off the market. This avoids you being ‘gazumped’ (the seller accepting a higher offer from someone else) but some sellers may be unwilling to do this. If so it’s a worrying time, but there’s not a lot you can do about it except work to get everything tied up as quickly as possible. 

This includes formalising your mortgage offer and proceeding with the application, instructing your solicitor to go ahead with searches and contracts and proceeding with surveys required by the lender and for your own purposes. Should the surveys or searches unearth some problems, this can be used to renegotiate the asking price, and while this might cause a short delay there is plenty still going on in the background at this stage, so the overall delay will be minimal. 

Communications

At this stage of the process there are lots of things going on simultaneously and while it is an anxious time, all you can do is ensure communication channels are open and that you reply to questions and requests for information as quickly as possible. This comes back to the earlier point of being organised and having everything prepared in terms of documentation and finances. 

Communications is something you can take control of. It can get frustrating when solicitors don’t appear to be working as quickly as you want them to – it’s a job to them after all and they are not as emotionally invested in the process as you are – but in most cases things are progressing as quickly as they can and unfortunately there are always necessary hurdles and red tape. It can ease your stress levels to take control of communications, however, so it is not unheard of for people to get hold of the contact details for sellers and buyers and get decisions more quickly via direct emails. Be careful and professional in how this is done as you don’t want to jeopardise any processes or agreements, but you may get a decision a day earlier this way, which will help your emotional state even if it makes little material difference overall. 

Utilities

While you await completion you can make a start on transferring your utility bills. If everything is proceeding okay, you will be able to agree a completion date and therefore can start to swap over your gas, electric, water, TV, telephone and broadband supply and your council tax bills to your new property. You can give these organisations the date at which supply should switch from your name to a new property owner and vice versa, meaning you are not over-paying for someone else’s usage. 

Completion

In most cases it is possible for all parties in a particular chain to agree on a completion date that is mutually acceptable. Given the number of variables involved in this, the date can change and be delayed, but you need to be open to this and willing to compromise to keep the peace. It may be that your buyer has been hanging on as long as they possibly can and is growing increasingly frustrated, to the point they may be about to pull out, so you may have to cooperate and concede some ground on a relatively minor detail to ensure there are no further delays. Causing the chain to collapse at this stage doesn’t bear thinking about. Equally you might be dependent on someone further up the chain being reasonable in the same way, to enable you to proceed. 

Fingers crossed everything will go through and you can book removals vans and look forward to getting in your new home, collapsing on the carpet because you haven’t put the sofa back together yet and ordering a takeaway. While you hunt out which box you put the coffee mugs in you might curse yourself and vow never to go through this process again, but inevitably you will, and while it can be long, arduous and worrying, as long as you are organised and prepared, it’s not as bad as you imagined.

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