There is still a danger that you could be gazumped. Gazumping is when the seller, having accepted your offer, then accepts a higher offer from someone else. This sort of thing is of course more prevalent when prices were rocketing, but it can happen at any time.
The estate agent is obliged to pass on all offers, and of course prefers higher offers (with commensurately higher commissions). It is also not unheard of for the buyer to claim at the last minute that there is a higher offer, whether there is one or not, just to see if he can squeeze a little extra out of you.
What can you do to minimise the risks?
When you have first had your offer accepted, you are unlikely to have all the elements for the purchase in place. There are some checks that you will, quite properly, want to carry out first. You will probably want to arrange a survey, for example, and this takes time. The more quickly you can get your ducks in a row, the less opportunity there is for gazumping.
Mortgage in principle
Therefore it helps if some things are in place before you start. One obvious thing to sort out before you even start looking at properties is a ‘mortgage in principle’. This is a conditional offer made by a mortgage lender that they will ‘in principle’ give you a loan up to a specified amount, provided certain conditions are met. Even though there will still be hoops to go through concerning the property in question, having a mortgage agreed in principle will speed things up a lot.
Similarly, having a found a conveyancing solicitor you want to work with in advance will also help to speed up the process, so it is worth having a look around and getting quotes from property lawyers. As any payments to the seller will be made through the conveyancing solicitors, it will also help if you are very prompt in getting the money to them. Often they hold it in advance so that payments can be made without delay.
Obviously having a surveyor in mind means you can make that call and organize a survey as soon as you are ready to proceed, too.
Off the market
Assuming you have everything lined up and ready to go when you make your offer, what else can you do? Ask that the property be taken off the market as part of the offer. The seller should be willing to do this, especially if he knows that you are serious and ready to move quickly. Unless the agreement to take the property off the market is in writing, it is unfortunately not worth much if the seller is unscrupulous.
Lock in agreement
A lock in agreement (sometimes called a lock out, preliminary or exclusivity agreement) is a more formal way of getting some time to arrange your affairs without worrying about competing offers being made.
The way these normally work is that both buyer and seller agree to pay a deposit (eg 2% of the property price). If either side tries to back out of the sale or change the price without good reason, their payment is forfeit to the other party. The written agreement should list those things which would allow for an alteration, such as problems with the survey. The exclusivity granted in such an agreement is for a limited period, usually about 10 days from receipt of the contract.
Provision should be made for either side delaying sending paperwork. It stands to reason that such a document will cost some money in legal fees, but you may decide it is worth it for the peace of mind. Therefore it may be something you want to consider when selecting a solicitor.
Lastly, it is possible to buy insurance which would pay you an agreed sum to cover losses in the event of being gazumped.
Of course it is not possible to be entirely sure you won’t be gazumped, but if you go in well prepared you can minimise the risks.