How to tackle unsold property

Securing a sale may need a fresh approach

Key points

  • Don't drop the price, drop the agent
  • For a successful sale, price must meet with demand.
  • Most agents will encourage you to lower the price, assuming demand is fixed.
  • Relisting with new photos and a new agent can boost the demand side of the equation.
  • The New Year is a great time to relaunch a property, as buyer numbers soar in January.

We recently hosted a webinar session giving tips on tackling unsold property. The recording is available below, and while this session was aimed at probate solicitors, the advice is equally applicable if you are a landlord or individual homeowner looking to sell.

What should you do if your property has been sitting unsold for months? The traditional advice from estate agents is: if it doesn’t sell, cut the price. Estate agents like this advice because they don’t have to do anything apart from maybe reprint the brochure: They still have the listing, and they hope a lower price will be an easy way to bring more buyers through the door. For the seller, though, this is far from ideal, because it means further eating away at the potential income.

Price versus demand

Price versus demand

In order to achieve a sale, the demand from buyers has to match the price the seller is willing to accept. If the price is too high or the demand is too low, you won’t sell. You only get a deal if the price and demand meet in the middle.

Conventional wisdom is that you can’t do much about demand, that’s down to market forces. Either there is demand from buyers or there isn’t, so the only thing you can do as a seller is to drop your asking price.

While this might result in a quick sale, it also means that as a seller you have willingly given up some value. And if the property doesn’t sell, you’ve now got a listing showing up on Rightmove with a price reduction, still unsold, and people may start to wonder what’s wrong with it.

However, there is one good reason that demand is not constant. Buying and selling property is more complicated than buying and selling other products (whether it’s cars, stocks and shares, groceries, or lipstick) because every single property is different.

This means that selling a home is effectively like a beauty parade: it’s your property versus everything else for sale in that area and price range at that time. This selling environment changes all the time. For example, if you own a flat and a new, nicer block gets built next door, your flat becomes the less attractive option for buyers in the area, so its market price goes down.

And it’s not only properties that are unique: buyers are all different, too. They have different budgets, timelines, requirements and tastes.

The importance of a good agent

Agents match people to properties

The job of an estate agent is to match these different buyers with different properties, and some will do a better job than others. You might think that in the age of property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla, agent choice doesn’t matter so much any more. But it does, for a number of reasons.

First of all, not everybody is looking on Rightmove. And even if they are, they might not be searching for your property. They think they know what they want, so their search terms might not be picking up your property, but if they actually viewed your property they might realise that it is suitable after all. For example they might only be searching for three-bedroom properties, so they miss out on a much less expensive two-bedroom property that could easily be extended to create their ideal home.

Which brings us to reason two: some estate agent are harder workers than others. Rather than relying on enquiries coming to them, a good estate agent will try to match properties to potential buyers who have registered with them previously. They can increase demand by phoning buyers and saying, for instance, “I’ve got a new listing that’s slightly outside the area you were previously looking but I really think you should have a look.” Different agents have different client lists, which is why you should choose an agent who tends to sell lots of property similar to the one you want to sell. They will have more suitable buyers on their books.

And another reason it’s important to choose the right agent is that you want someone who is motivated to put in the work, phoning potential buyers rather than just waiting for the call via Rightmove. Some agents are better than others in this regard – and it’s also inevitable that if a property has been listed with them for months, they are likely to focus their attention more on the new properties coming onto their books than the tired old one they haven’t been able to shift.

So, if a property hasn’t sold, our key message is: don’t drop the price, drop the agent. 

When to relist

So you want to try a different agent. When is the best time to do it?

It’s no secret that the property market is seasonal. At the time of writing, in December, our property team are handling lots of sales where the buyers want to be in by Christmas. But if a property hasn’t sold towards the end of the year, there is value in taking it off the market and trying again.

We know that not all buyers are on Rightmove, but searches on Rightmove are a pretty good indicator of volumes of people searching for houses. This graph shows the volume of traffic searching Rightmove over the Christmas and New Year period in 2018-19 and 2019-20 (for 2020-21, the pandemic was more of a driver than seasonal changes).

Rightmove traffic by day

It's clear that there is an annual dip around December. People want to have moved in by Christmas, and if they haven’t found a house by this time of year they stop searching. However as soon as we hit New Year, search volumes go right back up again. We examine this in more detail in our article When is the best time to sell a property? Conventional wisdom says you should wait until spring, but in fact if you look at the traffic, even in early to mid-January there are lots of people starting to search.

So if there are lots of people searching in January, but traditional advice being given by estate agents is not to list until March, there’s an opportunity to get ahead of the rush and list in January or February. That’s what we advise people to do: take the property off the market now, make sure you have good photographs and the right valuation, and then relist with the right agent in the new year.

Presentation is key

If the property you are selling is unoccupied, then after several months on the market it may well need some TLC. Ensure that it is cleaned and the garden is kept tidy, and consider taking some new photographs. Even if you are living in the property, it's a good opportunity to ensure that it is looking its best: for more tips see our article on How to prepare your house for sale. If you list with Movewise, we arrange professional photographs and floorplans which can be transferred to new agents when you relist.

Choose the right agent

Finally, you need to make sure that you are listing with the best agent. As explained above, you want an agent who has a good database of buyers for the right type of property, and you want an agent with the motivation and sales skills to get those buyers to look at your property. This is where Movewise can really help.

We constantly analyse the property market, collecting millions of data points each week on listings, sales, time to sell, price reductions and so on, in every part of the country. So this means that for a given type of property in a given postcode, we can identify the agents that are best at selling it.

We compile a “best agent report” highlighting the top three agents, and then we obtain valuations from them. Whether you are an individual homeowner, or a probate solicitor or landlord looking to handle multiple properties, we offer bespoke valuation services to suit you. We can then produce a marketing proposal recommending the best way to sell, and our expert property advisers will handle the sale right through to completion.

And in the event that the new agent still doesn't find success, our unique multi-agent process means that you can switch to another agent at no additional cost.

Contact us today to find out how Movewise can help you get that property sold.

Sign up to our Property Sales Masterclass

  • A daily email for 7 days teaching you the fundamentals of selling property through a series of micro lessons.
  • A fortnightly email thereafter to keep you up to date on recent developments and market trends.

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.

Learn more about