How do I choose the best offer when selling my home?

The highest offer might not always be the best offer. There are other factors to consider when choosing which buyer's offer to accept.

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House for sale

It's not just about price

1-in-3 home sales fall through in England and Wales after an offer is accepted.

Delays in the conveyancing process are a major contributing factor to abortive sales. The longer the conveyancing process takes, the greater the likelihood of the buyer's circumstances (or those of other buyers and sellers in the chain) changing. A change in the circumstances of your buyer, or any other party in the property chain, could jeopardise your sale.

If you have multiple offers, choosing a buyer who is less likely to bring delays can make a critical difference. Your choice of buyer can mean the difference between a fast and stress-free process, and a protracted sale that might ultimately fall through.

Each offer will have its pros and cons. The highest offer may not be the best offer in the broader context of the buyer's circumstances:

Chain-free buyers

A chain-free buyer won't be reliant on their own buyer or, as with some property chains, multiple other buyers and sellers in order to purchase your home. An offer from a chain-free buyer is attractive as your sale won't be exposed to problems that might occur anywhere else in the chain.

Delays are also less likely with a chain-free buyer - a key consideration if you are in a hurry to move.

Knowing their chain-free status to be attractive to sellers, buyers may make a lower offer. Depending on your circumstances, however, the benefits may more than offset the lower offer.

Read more:

How do I keep a property chain together & what to do if it breaks

Cash buyers

If your buyer is obtaining a mortgage, there are a number of risks that add uncertainty. For example, the lender might:

  • not be prepared to lend to the buyer
  • not be prepared to lend on the property
  • down value the property
  • withdraw their offer if the buyer's financial circumstances change

Waiting for a formal mortgage offer can also slow the conveyancing process down - increasing the risk of problems due to delays.

An offer from a cash buyer has obvious advantages. Better still an offer from a chain-free cash buyer.

Buyers who need to sell

Buyers are more likely than not to be part of a chain. Buyers in a chain need to sell their property in order to buy yours and they know they may be competing against a chain-free buyer. A buyer in a chain might, therefore, make a higher offer as an incentive for you to wait for their sale to go through.

If you can afford to wait, you may find you secure a higher offer by negotiating with a buyer in a chain.

The first-time buyer

First-time buyers coming from rented accommodation or from the family home, are also chain-free.

However, first-time buyers don't have a home to sell to raise capital and have never had a mortgage. Most first-time buyers will be dependent on securing a mortgage to fund their purchase. Ask the first-time buyer if they have a Decision in Principle (DIP) from their mortgage lender.

Talk to your estate agent

Once you receive an offer, make sure your agent gives you a full and clear picture of the prospective buyer's circumstances.

The agent can obtain the following information from the buyer when they make an offer:

  • If the buyer is a cash buyer
  • If the buyer is in a chain and if so, how long is the chain
  • If the buyer has sold their own property
  • If the buyer is in a hurry
  • Any other information that will strengthen or weaken a buyer's offer

With this knowledge, you will be more confident in your negotiating position. There is (usually) no hurry to accept an offer. If you have any reservations, your agent can relay these to the buyer who may be willing to make a higher offer.

Regardless of a buyer's profile, a buyer's initial offer is likely to be lower than your asking price, so be prepared to negotiate in any event.

Is selling property all about getting the highest price?

The short answer is, "it depends".

People sell property for a range of reasons, with different timescales in mind, and under many different circumstances.

If you have the luxury of time, you can afford to turn down low-ball offers and wait for a bigger offer.

For many sellers, however, time is very much a factor. This is often because the seller is in a chain and needs to find a buyer urgently.

Buyers face similar pressures. Some are more ready to move than others, some are more serious about seeing the process through, and some may be embroiled in a complicated chain that may delay the completion of your sale should you accept their offer.

When you have multiple offers, you must consider both your own circumstances and requirements, and also your buyer's.

Ask yourself, "What is more important?"

Do you want a quick sale, or the best-possible sale price? Are you prepared to risk the sale falling through by accepting a buyer in a chain, because they have made the higher offer?

Be aware that these various positions are not mutually exclusive. It is possible (if very unlikely) that you find a perfect buyer; a chain-free, cash buyer who also happens to have made the highest offer. It is also possible that there is little to choose between two or three offers you receive from buyers all in similar, chain-bound circumstances.

Choose the offer, and buyer, that best satisfies what requirements are important to you.

However...

When selecting a buyer. be mindful that conveyancing solicitors can take 2-3 months to complete the sale. Both your circumstances, and those of your buyer, can change in that time.

The highest offer may not mean a guaranteed sale

If someone comes along who is willing to pay the asking price (or more), make sure your estate agent gets a sense of the buyer's circumstances before you eagerly accept the offer.

A buyer in a chain may try to lure you in with the highest bid, so you are more willing to wait while they find a buyer themselves.

Try to understand the following about the buyer's position:

  • Does the buyer have a mortgage agreed in principle?
  • If the buyer is selling, do they have a buyer?
  • If the buyer is part of a chain, how many 'links' are there?
  • Are they a first-time buyer?
  • Are they a cash buyer (with no need to arrange a mortgage)?

Offering you the asking price is all very well, but be cautious of an buyer's offer that feels 'too good to be true', or seems otherwise unreliable.

Your estate agent may also be able to give you a steer as to how reliable a buyer's offer could be.

Do you need to sell quickly?

If you need to relocate swiftly, your finances are under strain, or you’ve made an offer on a property you don’t want to lose, finding a buyer who can move quickly will likely be your highest property.

Find out when your potential buyers plan to move in, and see whether this fits with your timescale.

If one buyer offers you more money, but is part of a complex chain that could see significant delays, and another party is offering less but is a cash buyer, you have a simple choice to make: more money, or a faster sale?

In addition, a cash buyer is not reliant on a bank or mortgage lender to fund their purchase. Cash buyers are therefore less likely to have to pull out for unforeseen reasons.

A buyer with a mortgage could lose that mortgage offer if, for example, their they lose their job in the months between making you an offer, and completing the conveyancing process.

Has the highest offer been made by a developer?

If you have had a high offer from a property developer, ask yourself why the developer wants to buy your property:

  • Are they simply planning to renovate or extend the property? Would that add considerable value in your area?
  • Could other developers be interested in the property?
  • What developments are due to take place in your immediate area that might make your house or the land it’s on more valuable?

If you have time and don't need to urgently move, ask your estate agent for any clues. It may be prudent to wait before leaping at the first high offer, particularly if an early, asking-price offer is an indication that improvements to the local area are imminent,

If some new development or new road is in the offing nearby, your property could become increasingly desirable.

Are you prepared to gamble and wait?

Refusing a high offer is always a gamble. Assuming you do not need to move urgently, you may find that a high offer is a positive sign, and that you may receive even higher offers in due course.

That said, the local market could collapse, an anticipated road or rail scheme could be delayed, or your high offer may have been made by a uniquely-positioned buyer in desperate need of a home. A delay on your part could see the high offer withdrawn.

Conclusion - Be prepared

The best position to be in is one where you have considered your requirements ahead of time.

If you know what your minimum acceptable offer is, whether you need a quick sale, or a (relatively) more-reliable buyer, you will be able to judge each offer you receive against those criteria.

According to HM Land Registry, one-in-three conveyancing transactions fall through. Ultimately, if you do need to sell, you may be better off ignoring the size of the offers you receive, and focus instead on choosing the buyer with the best prospects for a successful sale.

Your next step

If you are buying, selling, remortgaging or transferring equity in a home, we can help you find an expert conveyancing solicitor.

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Author:
Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher