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Problems with buying and selling a home

Using an estate agent

If an estate agent is selling a property for you, there is a contractual agreement between the estate agent and you. If you have a problem with an estate agent it is usually necessary to check a copy of any written agreement between you and the estate agent and establish what verbal agreements, if any, were made.

As the seller, you pay the estate agent for their services and the estate agent is therefore acting on your behalf.  It is your interest they will represent and the buyer should bear this in mind if they are interested in a house being sold through an estate agent.

All estate agents must belong to an approved complaints redress scheme. There are two approved schemes - a redress scheme run by the Property Ombudsman and a scheme run by the Ombudsman Services: Property. If you have a complaint about an estate agent when you buy or sell property, you will be able to refer the complaint to whichever scheme the estate agent belongs to. Estate agents that refuse to join a scheme can be fined.

The bill is too high

You may think that the bill from the estate agent, after the sale is completed, is too high. It is important to check that the bill gives a clear breakdown of the costs, for example, the commission fee, advertising, VAT. The bill should then be compared to the original agreement between you and the estate agent.

If as the seller you cannot agree the amount of the estate agents’ bill you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

You decide not to sell

If you decide not to continue with the sale of your home, you may have to pay some estate agents’ charges, for example, to cover any costs the estate agent has already incurred. This will depend on the original contract between the seller and the estate agent.

If you dispute the amount the estate agent is charging, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

You want to use an additional estate agent

If you have been using one estate agent this is known as ‘sole agency’. When you agree a sole agency with an estate agent the contract will usually state how long this period of sole agency will last. At the end of this period you are free to use one or more additional estate agents.

If you use one or more additional estate agents before the period of sole agency has come to an end, you are breaking the contract with the original estate agent. This means that if the new estate agent finds a buyer for the house you would have to pay commission not only to the new estate agent but also to the agent with whom you had the sole agency agreement. If the original agent found a buyer, the amount of commission that the seller would have to pay to the new estate agent would depend on the type of agreement you had with them.

However, you may be able to negotiate changing the sole agency agreement to a joint sole agency agreement with the original estate agency.

For information about different types of agency agreements, see Selling a home.

You want to change estate agents

You may want to change your estate agent. You should check the terms of the agreement you have with the estate agent to see if this is possible. If it is possible you may still have to pay some charges to the estate agent to cover costs, such as advertising, that the estate agent has incurred.

If you dispute the amount the estate agent is charging, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

You have found your own buyer

You may have found your own buyer for the property who has not come through the estate agent, for example, a friend may want to buy the property. You are entitled to sell to a buyer who has not been found by the estate agent but you may find that you will still have to pay the estate agent. What you have to pay will depend on the contract.

You are not satisfied with the service provided

You may not be satisfied with the service the estate agent is providing, for example:-

  • the estate agent may not be sending out details of your property to potential buyers
  • the advertising is not what you wanted
  • the details about the house are inaccurate or inadequate

You may wish to consider complaining to the estate agent in writing or changing to a different estate agent.

If you are not satisfied with the estate agent's response to your complaint, you can complain to the Property Ombudsman or the Ombudsman Services: Property, depending on which redress scheme the estate agent belongs to.

For more information about the Property Ombudsman and the Ombudsman Services: Property, in England, see How to use an ombudsman in England, in Wales, see How to use an ombudsman in Wales or in Northern Ireland, see How to use an ombudsman in Northern Ireland.

Estate agents aren't allowed to discriminate against you for a number of reasons. For example, they can't refuse to show you a certain property because the owner doesn't want to sell to people of a certain religion or belief. If an estate agent discriminates against you, you can complain to the estate agent's company. If you are not satisfied with the response, you could also complain to the Property Ombudsman or the Ombudsman Services: Property, depending on which redress scheme the estate agent belongs to.

For more information about the Property Ombudsman and the Ombudsman Services: Property, in England, see How to use an ombudsman in England, in Wales, see How to use an ombudsman in Wales or in Northern Ireland, see How to use an ombudsman in Northern Ireland.

If you are not satisfied with the estate agent’s response to your complaint, you could consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

The buyer or seller has lost money because of the estate agent

The buyer or seller may think they have lost money because:-

  • the buyer’s deposit was not returned to them by the estate agent, if the sale fell through
  • the buyer’s deposit, kept by the estate agent, was not passed onto the seller on completion
  • the seller believes that their property was sold for less money than it was worth and this was the estate agent’s fault.

If you think that you have lost money because of the estate agent, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Surveyors and valuers

Sellers

If you are selling your property, a potential buyer will usually want a valuer and/or surveyor to inspect the property. You will have to allow the valuer/surveyor to look round the property if you want the sale to go ahead.

Buyers

The valuation is arranged by the mortgage lender

If you are a buyer, you may not have had your own survey carried out but relied on the valuation report prepared for the mortgage lender. If problems occur later with the property, which you feel should have been identified at the valuation, you should seek legal advice.

As a general rule, the valuer can be liable if faults occur after you buy the property. This is because the valuer owes a duty of care to the person applying for the mortgage.

For the valuer to be liable, you must be able to show that a surveyor employed by the valuer has been careless, for example, by not identifying problems that they should have. Sometimes, the valuation will contain a statement saying that the valuer isn't liable for faults which are found after the valuation. However, if this is just a general statement and does not refer to a particular problem, it probably can't be used by the valuer to avoid liability.

The circumstances in which a valuer can be held legally responsible for any financial loss suffered by the buyer as a result of the valuation are limited. If you think the valuer is responsible, you may need to consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

The valuation or survey is arranged by the buyer

You may have arranged for your own survey to be carried out and then found you have a problem with the property after you bought it. For example, you found that part of the roof needs replacing.

In a case like this, you may be entitled to damages (compensation) from the surveyor for the difference between the value of the property in good condition and its value in bad condition.

However, whether or not the surveyor may be held responsible will depend on whether the survey included information on all the points which the surveyor had agreed to inspect and what is in the report. For example, the surveyor may be held responsible if they:

  • had agreed to inspect the roof but had not included information about it in the report
  • said there were no problems with the roof.

On the other hand, it is unlikely that the surveyor will be held responsible if they:

  • included details of the problem with the roof in the report
  • could not inspect that part of the roof and said so in the report. In this case, it would be your responsibility to arrange for any further investigations that may be necessary because the surveyor was unable to make a full report.

If you want to claim damages from your surveyor, you should write to them saying why you think they are responsible for the money you have lost and giving details of how much you think you have lost. You may also be able to make a claim for damages for other related costs such as temporary housing because you are unable to live in your property while repairs are carried out.

Your surveyor could say that there was a disclaimer on the report stating that they aren't liable for faults which are found after the survey has been carried out. However, your surveyor must carry out a survey with reasonable care and can't use a disclaimer to avoid this responsibility.

If your surveyor won't agree to your claim, you may need to go to court.

For more information about taking a case to court, see Courts of law and, in England and Wales, see Starting court action in Consumer fact sheets.

The circumstances in which a surveyor can be held legally responsible for your financial loss as a result of a survey are limited. If you want to make a claim against a surveyor, you may need help from an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

If your claim against the surveyor is over £5,000 (£3,000 in Northern Ireland), you may want to consider complaining to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, rather than taking court action.

Complaining about a valuer or surveyor

You can complain to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) if the valuer or surveyor is a member. This is one of the professional bodies for chartered surveyors.

For more information about RICS, see Surveyors organisations.

You may also be able to complain to the Ombudsman Services: Property. Before you can do this, you must complain to the surveyor's firm first and give them a chance to sort out the problem.

For more information about the Ombudsman Services: Property, see see How to use an ombudsman in England, How to use an ombudsman in Wales, or How to use an ombudsman in Northern Ireland.

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Building societies and other lenders

Difficulty in getting a mortgage

As the buyer, you may be having difficulty in getting a mortgage, for example, your salary is not enough or the property is unusual. Different lenders have different rules about giving mortgages and it may be worth you trying some other lenders.

It's unlawful for a lender to discriminate against you because of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. For example, a lender can't refuse to give you a mortgage because you are pregnant, or to give you a mortgage on worse terms than someone else because you're pregnant.

For more information about discrimination when providing goods and services, see Discrimination in goods and services.

Valuation is less than the purchase price of the house

The lender may decide that the property is worth less than the amount that you have agreed to pay for it. This means that the lender will not lend as much money as you had requested. You may therefore try to negotiate a lower price with the seller. If the seller will not drop the price and you still want to go ahead with the purchase, you may have to borrow the difference from elsewhere if you do not have the extra money available.

If the seller will not lower the price or you cannot pay the difference, you may consider if another lender would give the house a higher valuation.

Delays in getting a mortgage offer

There may be a delay in the lender making a formal mortgage offer to you. Until the mortgage offer is made, contracts cannot be exchanged. You should contact the lender to find out if there is any reason for the delay, for example, the lender is waiting for salary details from your employer. It may be possible for you to do something about the problem, for example, contacting your employer yourself.

If there is a delay in getting a mortgage, you can apply for a bridging loan to pay for your new home until the mortgage comes through. You can apply to a bank or other financial institution for a bridging loan. The loan is usually given for a fixed amount of time and the rate of interest is always higher than the interest rates normally charged on mortgages. You should always check what the interest payments will be before taking out a bridging loan.

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Problems with the buyer

The offer to buy is withdrawn

The buyer may withdraw the offer they have made before contracts are exchanged. Until contracts are exchanged, the buyer is under no legal obligation to buy the home and does not have to pay for any of the costs that you as the seller may have incurred. However, you may wish to ask the buyer to contribute towards these costs.

The price offered is reduced

The buyer may decide to reduce the offer they have made for the house. If they do this before contracts are exchanged it is up to you as the seller to decide whether or not you want to accept this lower offer. When the lower offer is made just before contracts are exchanged, this practice is known as gazundering. Gazundering is legal and generally occurs when property prices are going down.

Once contracts have been exchanged, the buyer is legally committed to paying the price stated in the contract. If they try to drop the price at this stage, you do not have to accept this lower price.

If the buyer pulls out of the sale after contracts were exchanged, you can sue them for any loss this causes you and you may be able to keep the deposit. You will need to get legal advice.

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Problems with the seller

The seller gazumps the buyer

The seller may accept an offer for their house and then inform you as the buyer that they have been offered a higher price by someone else. This is known as ‘gazumping’. You may decide to offer a higher price in order to try and secure the house but there is no guarantee that you will not be gazumped again. There is nothing illegal about gazumping and the purchase price of a house is only legally settled when contracts are exchanged. You may however have entered into an agreement with the seller that the seller will not consider other offers during a set period before the exchange of contracts. If such an agreement exists, and you are gazumped during this period, you will be able to sue the seller for breach of contract.

The seller withdraws their acceptance of the offer

The seller may withdraw their acceptance of the offer anytime before contracts are exchanged, for example, they have found another buyer or have decided not to sell. There is nothing you as the buyer can do about this but you could ask the seller for a contribution towards any costs you have incurred, for example, survey fees. However, the seller is under no legal obligation to make a contribution.

The seller accepts more than one offer (contract race)

The seller may accept more than one offer and instruct their solicitor to send draft contracts to more than one potential buyer. The solicitor must inform all potential buyers that more than one contract has been sent out and that the first contract which is returned, signed and ready for exchange, will get the house. This is known as a contract race and is quite legal. There is nothing you as the buyer can do except withdraw if you do not want to incur the necessary costs in getting the contract completed quickly.

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The buyer or seller is involved in a chain of buying and selling

A buyer or seller may find that they have problems because they are involved in a chain of buying and selling. This happens when a buyer or seller is selling and/or buying at the same time and the other people involved are also buying and selling. This creates a chain of buyers and sellers which may be very long.

There is not very much you can do if you are involved in a chain situation but, if the problem is with the buyer or is further down the buyer's chain, the buyer could:

  • look for another buyer
  • ask the estate agent to consider buying the home
  • arrange a bridging loan until the home is sold.

If the problem is with the seller, the buyer could consider looking for another home, go ahead with the sale of their home and arrange temporary accommodation.

However, the buyer needs to remember that until contracts are exchanged, they can't be sure that purchase or sale of the home will go ahead.

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Solicitors and licensed conveyancers

Licensed conveyancers are only available in England and Wales.

Delays in conveyancing

As the buyer or seller you may think that there is an unreasonable delay in the conveyancing. You should find out from your solicitor or licensed conveyancer the reason for any delay.

If you are not satisfied with your solicitor or licensed conveyancer’s response, you may wish to consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Interest on deposits

When a buyer pays a deposit on a property this is held by the seller’s solicitor or licensed conveyancer. Any interest earned on the deposit during the period is kept by the solicitor or, in England and Wales, the licensed conveyancer and should be passed on to the seller at completion. The seller may need to ask for the interest as it is not always passed on. If the solicitor or licensed conveyancer refuses to pass on the interest, the seller should take this up with the Legal Ombudsman in England and Wales, or the Law Society in Northern Ireland.

For information on complaints about solicitors in England and Wales, see Complaints about legal advisers.
For information on complaints about solicitors in Northern Ireland, see Using a legal adviser.

The bill for the conveyancing is too high

If you as the buyer or seller think that the solicitor or licensed conveyancer’s bill is too high, you should not pay the bill but should first check that all the various costs are clearly itemised. You should ask the solicitor or licensed conveyancer to explain anything you do not understand. If you are still not satisfied with the amount of the bill, you may wish to consider taking further action against the solicitor or complaining to the Legal Ombudsman in England and Wales, or the Law Society in Northern Ireland.

For information on how to dispute a solicitor’s bill in England and Wales, see Using a legal adviser.
For information on how to dispute a solicitor’s bill in Northern Ireland, see Using a legal adviser.

The buyer thinks the solicitor or licensed conveyancer has been negligent

As the buyer you may think that the solicitor or licensed conveyancer has been negligent, for example, after the sale has been completed, you may discover there is a problem with the boundary wall or there is a road widening scheme that will reduce the size of the garden and this might mean that the value of your house has reduced. In England and Wales, if this happens and you want compensation, you should seek legal advice about suing the conveyancer. If you have a complaint regarding poor service or behaviour, you should follow any internal complaints procedure of the firm concerned. If you are not happy with the outcome you should complain as you may be able to get compensation. In England and Wales you can complain to the Legal Ombudsman if you used a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer. In Northern Ireland, problems with conveyancing are dealt with by the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

For more information about the Legal Ombudsman, see Complaints about legal advisers.
To contact the Law Society of Northern Ireland, see Using a legal adviser.

If you are not satisfied with the result of your complaint, you may wish to consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Problems with the property

The buyer is dissatisfied with the state the property was left in

As the buyer you may be dissatisfied with the state of the property when you move in, for example, it is dirty. There is nothing you can do about this because the seller is under no legal obligation to leave the house in a clean state. However, the seller is under an obligation to empty the house of all their furniture and belongings, unless you agree otherwise with them. If the seller has left some belongings in the house you should ask the seller to remove them. If the seller cannot or will not remove the items you will have to arrange to have them moved. Moving the items may cost you money and you could try to recover this from the seller. However, if the seller refuses to cover the costs you may have to take the seller to court to recover the money and this is unlikely to be worthwhile.

The seller’s property is worth less than they paid for it (negative equity)

As the seller you may find that the value of your house has dropped since you bought it. This may mean that if you sell it at its current value you will still owe money to your lender. This is called ‘negative equity’. If you're in this situation, you will need to get your mortgage lender's permission to sell the property.

Your lender may have a scheme which helps you if you are in negative equity. For example, it may be possible to transfer the existing mortgage to a new property rather than pay it off and take out a new one. Different lenders will offer different schemes and you should discuss the situation with your lender.

Furniture and fittings have been removed

The seller must leave all the fixtures, for example, a fireplace, and any fittings that they agreed would either be included in the sale or paid for separately, for example, fitted carpets. If as the buyer you find that something has been removed you should check with your solicitor or licensed conveyancer whether or not the item should have been left. The solicitor or licensed conveyancer may be able to resolve the problem.

If the problem is not resolved, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Damage to the property after exchange of contracts

Damage caused between exchange and completion

A house may be damaged after contracts have been exchanged but before the sale is completed, for example, a burst pipe or a broken window. It is the seller’s responsibility to inform the buyer of any damage. It is however the buyer’s responsibility to insure the property from the date of exchange of contracts and to have the repairs carried out. The buyer will then have to make a claim on their insurance policy.

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Discrimination

If you are selling your home through an estate agent, you can't refuse an offer from someone or treat them unfairly just because of their disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. This could be unlawful discrimination.

Different rules apply when you sell a property directly to someone without going through an estate agent. In this case, it is usually only unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their race.

For more information about discrimination, see our pages on Discrimination.

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