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How to sell a house

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How to sell a house
Follow our guide to achieve a successful sale

Are you thinking of putting your property on the market? Selling your home can be a daunting prospect, with lots to think about and organise, so we have put together a guide to help you through the process. Follow this advice and you will be on the way to finding a buyer as quickly and smoothly as possible, and achieving the best price for your property.

No time to read now? We have created an e-book version of this guide that you can download to read offline.

1. Is the time right to sell?

When is the right time to sell your home? For many vendors, the answer is “as soon as possible!” – but for those who have the luxury of time and want the best chance of achieving the maximum sale price, the time of year you list a property on the market can be an important factor. Our guide to when to sell your home will give you more details, but here’s an introduction:

Conventional wisdom is that spring is the best time to list a property in order to sell, but it could pay to beat the rush

Sellers have traditionally been advised to list their property in the spring months, as warmer weather tempts buyers out of hibernation and gardens start to look pretty for those all-important photographs. But does that still hold true in the internet age? Traffic data from property portals shows that interest from buyers increases dramatically right from the beginning of January after a lull over the Christmas period:

Rightmove traffic by day, Dec-Feb

If you want to sell at the best price, you need to follow the basic rules of supply and demand. If buyer demand is high in January, but sellers are advised not to provide the supply until March or April, why not get ahead of the game and list in January?

Selling prices tend to be highest in summer – but those houses will have been listed months earlier

All other things being equal, selling prices fluctuate with the time of year: that’s why house price indexes such as the Nationwide’s are seasonally adjusted:

Nationwide house price seasonal adjustments

The figures show that prices tend to be about 1% above the long-term average in summer and 1% below in winter.  But it’s important to note that Nationwide’s price index is based on mortgage approvals, rather than when a property was listed. Assuming a typical time from listing to completion of six months, these mortgage approvals are likely to come four or five months after a property was first listed for sale. So those properties selling in high summer, when prices are above the long-term average, might well have been launched in January.

These variations are small, no more than roughly plus or minus 1%, so don’t place too much importance on them. In a strongly rising (or falling) market, the long-term trend is likely to reduce seasonal variations to background noise.

School summer holidays and the run-up to Christmas are always quiet times

While August is a busy time for completions, as buyers with families want to have moved in before the start of the school term, that is not the case for viewings. Many potential buyers will be away on holiday, or too busy with children to go house hunting.

Estate agents report that there is often a surge of interest in September, once the school term starts, but this tends to be fairly brief. If you are keen to sell in late summer or autumn, the best advice would be to list at the beginning of September to take advantage of the rise in viewings. However, if you haven’t found a buyer by the end of October, it may be worth withdrawing from the market until after Christmas if you can, or face up to dropping your asking price.

Make sure your finances are in order

Finally, before considering selling, you need to consider the implications for any outstanding mortgage secured on your property: will you face early repayment fees? If you intend to transfer (or “port”) your existing mortgage to a new property, you will still need to pass the lender’s eligibility checks, which might not be simple if your circumstances have changed since you originally took out the loan. This is especially relevant if you intend to add to the loan to buy a more expensive property. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of selling, such as estate agent’s fees, conveyancing costs and paperwork such as the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

2. Prepare your house for sale

Professionally staged interiors can help you sell faster

Sprucing up your property to present it in its best light isn’t just about making it look good in the estate agent’s photographs or creating a favourable first impression when viewers walk in through the front door. A buyer will be looking for reasons to offer less than your asking price, and the more work they feel they will need to do on the house, the more they will factor that in to the price they offer. We have a full guide to preparing your house for sale, but here are the most important points:

Tidy and clean the property thoroughly before any photographs or viewings

It’s the simplest and cheapest way to make your house more attractive to potential buyers but will make a big difference. House buying relies a lot on emotions, and many buyers have poor imaginations. Show them a dirty, untidy flat and chances are they won’t be able to see through the grime and clutter to visualise their dream home. Cleaning is doubly important if you have pets: dog beds, litter trays and food bowls won’t make a good first impression, and neither will pet hair or unpleasant odours. A bad “house smell” is a great way to deter buyers, and if you live with it you likely won’t be aware of it. If in doubt, vacuum, deodorise and open windows. Baking fresh bread or brewing coffee before a viewing are clichés for a reason – the pleasant aroma can do a great job at masking a hint of damp dog.

Keep decor neutral

It’s easier for a buyer to picture putting their own stamp on a property if it offers a blank canvas, so if your tastes veer to the brighter end of the paint chart, it might pay to slap on a coat of something more neutral before the viewings start: one person’s bright and welcoming colour scheme is another person’s garish eyesore. Likewise, walls covered with family photos or eclectic artworks can make it hard for the buyer to visualise the property as their home, not yours.

Turn bedrooms back into bedrooms if they have been put to another use

One of the main criteria buyers use when searching for a property is “number of bedrooms”. So if you’re currently using a spare bedroom as a home office, a playroom or a junk storage area, turn it back into a bedroom so that buyers can see its full potential. Another tip: empty rooms tend to look smaller. Buyers looking at a space with no furniture will often think it’s a tiny box room, so put a cheap bed in to show that it’s a proper bedroom.

Professional home staging could give you an edge over other sellers

One way to ensure your property looks its absolute best, and to give yourself an edge over competing sellers, is to use a home staging specialist. Professional home staging involved having new furnishings delivered and styled to ensure that the estate agent's brochure looks the part and prospective buyers experience the "wow factor" as soon as they walk in. The cost certainly needs to be taken into consideration - expect to pay 0.5%-1% of the property value for a three-month staging contract - but research shows that the return on investment, in terms of increased offer price, could be as much as 300%-600%.

Carry out minor repairs and be honest about larger problems – it is better for the buyer to know about them from the outset

Buyers’ surveyors will be looking for any defects such as cracks, loose tiles and so on, which will give the buyer leverage to reduce the price they offer. This reduction will often be far higher than the price it will cost you to have the problem fixed – the perception may be that if the surveyor has found these problems, there may be others hidden. Similarly, if the property has issues that a surveyor is likely to uncover, such as a history of subsidence, it is best to make the buyer aware of it so they don’t get any nasty shocks. It is likely to be worth paying for a friendly surveyor’s or structural engineer’s report upfront and giving it to buyers. Tell them: “We're aware of these issues – please take them into consideration in your bid rather than muck us around later in the process.”

Finally, if you've made changes to the property, get a surveyor to check for any planning permission or building control issues that may arise: you don’t want these problems coming up during negotiations, as buyers will often reduce their offer far more than they would had they factored them in from the start.

3. Get your property valued

An accurate valuation is vital

Setting your asking price at the right level is vital. Ask too much and you will put people off from even looking at your property, and risk having to cut the price tag, which can make buyers think there is something wrong with it. Get the price too low, however, and you’re throwing money away. These are the main points to bear in mind: see our full guide to valuing your property for more.

Online research is no substitute for the local knowledge of a good estate agent

You can get a rough idea of how much your property is worth by looking at property portals such as Zoopla. Search for your address for a free valuation estimate, as well as sold prices for neighbouring homes. You could also further by looking at nearby sales and calculate a price per square foot which you can apply to your own house, or use more detailed online valuation tools such as  online valuation tool such as Hometrack’s Property Valuation Report, which costs £19.95.

Online tools work best in areas where there are plenty of similar properties to compare: it’s easier to get a guide price on a street of suburban semis than in a rural area with a small number of widely differing houses. But wherever you are, a local estate agent will have a far better handle on prices than any website algorithm. They will be able to take into account differences between streets in the same postcode, as well as the individual characteristics of the house and its state of repair.

Get multiple estate agents to provide an estimated value – but don't just go with the highest figure

It’s best to get valuations from about three local estate agents: if they vary widely it might be worth seeking further opinions. Make sure the agents you ask are those who are likely to be able to sell your home, and when choosing which agent to instruct, don't just go for the one who gave you the highest estimated value: this is where Movewise’s expertise can help, by identifying the best agent for you. See below for our guide on choosing the best estate agent.

Tell the agents of any hidden features or benefits that add to the value of your house

Have you just replaced the boiler, improved your insulation or added some hi-tech home automation? Make sure you let the agent valuing your property know about features that could make your house worth more to buyers. Similarly, listen to their advice: estate agents are the experts, so if they suggest you should repaint your living room or do some minor repairs, it's worth paying attention.

4. Choose the right estate agent

Find the best agent for the job

Which agent to use is one of the key decisions that determine your success when you sell your house. Should you use a traditional high-street firm or an online outfit? Appoint a sole agency or joint agents? Get it right and you stand a better chance of finding a buyer quickly, and achieving the best sale price – yet a lot of people choose estate agents for the wrong reasons. This is a sample of popular reasons given by sellers, according to a government report on buying and selling homes:
They are located very near to my home"

"They charged the lowest fees/commission"

"They gave me the highest valuation"

"They have a large branch network"

"I used them to buy this home"

So what should you really be looking for? See our full guide to choosing the best estate agent, highlights of which are below:

Choose the agent selling the most properties similar to yours

The single most important question to ask yourself when deciding which agent to choose is: “How much interest in my property can they generate?” To generate a lot of interest, an estate agent needs access to a lot of prospective buyers of your property, and that means you want someone who deals with lots of properties similar to yours. So let the sales data be your guide. Keep an eye out for ‘For sale’ boards in your area, and search online for local listings at a similar asking price, and make a shortlist of the agencies with the highest number of matches.

Be wary of cheap online estate agencies

Online firms have muscled in on traditional high-street estate agents in recent years. While these hi-tech newcomers might appear to offer a good deal – typically a fixed one-off fee, rather than the percentage charged by traditional agents – think carefully about what you are getting for your money. Many of the cheaper online firms do little more than submit a listing to the big property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla; some don’t even take photos unless you pay extra. Online agencies often boast of low failure rates, but this is because there is little incentive for a vendor to withdraw their property, having already paid an upfront fee. Choosing the right estate agent does not mean choosing the cheapest estate agent!

Consider whether to choose sole or multiple estate agents

A sole agent agreement means just that: a single estate agency has the sole right to sell your property. When signing up with a sole agent you will usually enter into an exclusivity agreement, typically lasting 12 weeks or more. If you sell your property within this time – even if the agent didn’t find the buyer – then you have to pay the agent commission.

Alternatively, you can instruct multiple agents: in this case the various firms (three or more) will be competing with each other to sell your property, and only the successful agent will get the commission.

A halfway house between these two methods is appointing joint sole agents. This means choosing two (or perhaps three) firms who work on a more co-operative basis. Often the firms will agree to share the commission payments between them, with a greater share going to the firm that secures the sale. A typical case when joint sole agents might be appropriate would be selling a prime country property, when the vendor may choose to appoint a local agent as well as a high-end national agency that markets to wealthy buyers in London or overseas.

Each approach has its pros and cons: sole agents will charge a lower fee, but are also likely to reach fewer potential buyers. Multiple agents may be more proactive in trying to sell your property, because they will be competing to win their commission; however, dealing with more than one agent can multiply the hassle factor too.

For many vendors, going with a sole agent at the outset is a good option, provided they can secure a competitive fee and an exclusivity period that is not too long. If you are unsuccessful with a sole agent, then consider relisting with multiple agents. See our full guide to sole and multiple estate agents.

Negotiate on the fee, but don’t let the percentage be the sole deciding factor

It’s easy to see the percentage as the be all and end all, but remember that it is only part of the equation. You might be put off by Agent B charging a 0.5% higher fee than Agent A, but on a £1m property that represents £5,000, so if Agent B can sell it for £10,000 more than Agent A, it makes sense to choose them. Likewise, lengthy delays in selling can often mean spending far more than you save on fees (in rental costs, for example) – or even missing out on a dream property.

Movewise can do the hard work for you when it comes to choosing an agent

Movewise uses technology to identify the best agents for you: the ones that have the most buyers interested in a property like yours. The Movewise model also offers the best aspects of both single-agent and multiple-agent sales: we use our negotiating power to agree a fee that is typically the same as a standard single-agent percentage, yet our sequential multi-agent process means that if the first agent doesn’t sell your home fast, it can quickly be relisted with another, at no additional cost.

We also arrange valuations from multiple agents, take photographs of your property and draw up floorplans, speeding up the process and making it simple to switch to another estate agent. And because we deal with the agents, you deal with a single dedicated adviser throughout the selling process.

5. Appoint a conveyancer or solicitor

Find the right legal professional

Whether you are buying or selling a residential property, you will require the services of a legal professional to handle the conveyancing process: that is, the official transfer of ownership from vendor to purchaser.  This can be either a fully qualified solicitor or licensed conveyancer, and either a bricks-and-mortar firm on the high street or an online company. In the past, it was traditional to use a local firm of solicitors, often charging by the hour, but these days many solicitors offer a fixed-fee conveyancing service. In addition, there are numerous specialist firms, many of which offer fast online conveyancing quotes.

Our guide to choosing a property solicitor will help you find the service you need, but here are the essential points:

Do you need a solicitor or a conveyancer, and what’s the difference?

 While it is not a legal requirement to use a qualified professional, it is strongly recommended, as mistakes in a property transaction can be extremely costly. 

Essentially, solicitors are trained in a wider range of legal areas, and are likely to be better equipped to deal with more complex sales. Conveyancers are not fully trained solicitors but are specifically qualified to handle property transactions. They will generally charge less than the legal fees of solicitors, and for straightforward sales their services should be perfectly adequate.

When buying a property, it is more vital to have a diligent solicitor or conveyancer who will carry out the necessary checks and look out for potential problems. If you are buying a more unusual property, such as a large country house or farmland, it would be wise to look for a solicitor who specialises in this type of transaction.

If you are only concerned with selling a property quickly and smoothly, a basic conveyancing service is likely to be suitable, but you still need someone who will provide fast and efficient responses to the buyer's solicitor. The cheapest conveyancing quote is unlikely to be the best option, so take into account service as well as price.

Make sure you know what the fee will cover and what level of service you will receive

The conveyancing fees you pay will depend on a number of factors, including whether you are buying or selling, whether the property is freehold or leasehold, whether there is a mortgage involved, and the level of conveyancing service you want. There may be a sliding scale based on the purchase price of the property.

The costs consist of the solicitor's or conveyancer's fees, together with the cost of the various payments (disbursements) that must be paid as part of the transaction. There will be more disbursements if you are buying a property, for example:

  • Search fees, such as local authority, water/drainage and environmental searches
  • Telegraphic transfer (TT) fees, payable for bank transfers of sums greater than the £60,000 BACS limit
  • ID checks, to satisfy money laundering regulations
  • Pre-completion searches
  • Land Registry fees
  • Stamp duty land tax is also payable in most cases when buying a property, and some conveyancers may charge for completing the stamp duty return.

When selling a property, disbursements will include:

  • TT fees
  • ID checks
  • Official copies of the title register and title plan from the Land Registry

As a rough guide, if you are just selling a property, the total cost could be about £800-£1,000 plus VAT; if you are buying, £1,000-£1,500 plus VAT (excluding stamp duty). Cash transactions (with no mortgage) could reduce these figures, while deals involving leaseholds will increase them. Fees will generally be higher for more expensive or unusual properties, those that have not been registered with the Land Registry, or if additional legal advice is required.

In any case, make sure you check exactly what is included in the quote. Online quotes from “fixed-fee” conveyancing firms may offer temptingly low headline figures, but these often don’t include basic services that other firms include in their legal fees. If you see a quote offering conveyancing for £300, you can be fairly sure there will be plenty of hidden extras.

Also find out who will be dealing with your transaction: will it be an individual, a small team, or somebody in a call centre? Cheaper conveyancing firms are often call-centre operations, so you could be dealing with a different person each time you call. If complications arise during the deal, this could lead to frustrations and delays. Ask how many other files the person or team will be handling. Some firms will offer different levels of service, from a highly personalised tier to a more basic service where the solicitors are working on many transactions at the same time

Instruct the conveyancer or solicitor as soon as possible

Many sellers don’t get a conveyancing solicitor in place until they have a buyer lined up, but to ensure a quick and smooth sale it is a good idea to do it before putting the property on the market. This means that much of the paperwork can be prepared in advance so that it is ready as soon as a potential buyer requires it. Instructing the conveyancer early is especially important for leasehold properties, which have more parties involved (freeholder, managing agent and so on) and more time-consuming red tape.

Contact Movewise for a better way to sell

Movewise was built to deliver the best possible sales process for every property vendor in the UK.  We will tailor a sales process to your requirements, whether it is speed of sale and certainty you need, or you can market for longer and seek the maximum value.

We feel that every property should sell for its full market value and not be forced into price reductions prematurely or have to pull out due to lack of transparency, over-valuations or poor customer service.

That's why Movewise offers customers highly flexible terms and conditions, identifies the best agents for your sale, and manages the process from end to end to ensure you get the best result possible, whatever the value of your property and wherever you are in the UK.

We deliver this through a sequential, managed process using the best local agents as this is the way to ensure maximum buyer traffic and competition for your sale.  Because we simplify the process for the agents and give them repeat business we are able to command attractive fees and terms, allowing us to deliver all this to you for the same as a regular sole agency fee. More on fees.

Call us today on 020 3409 4350 or leave your details here to find out how you can get the best sales process for your property managed by Movewise.

You can find out more about our team and how we are pioneering a better way to sell here

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