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What is gazumping? Is it legal?

If you’re looking to buy a new home – and particularly if you are a First Time Buyer – you may be wondering what ‘gazumping’ is and how you can avoid it.

What is gazumping? Is it legal?


Gazumping occurs when a buyer has had an offer to purchase a property accepted by the seller, but before the sale is completed the seller accepts a better offer from another buyer.

It can be a crushing disappointment to lose out on a property you had your heart set on, and for which you thought you had made a binding offer to buy. In the worst cases, gazumping can also leave the unfortunate would-be buyer out of pocket to the tune of thousands of pounds in non-refundable survey costs, conveyancing fees and mortgage arrangement fees.

Is gazumping legal?

As unfair as it might feel when you’re on the receiving end, the truth is that gazumping is a perfectly legal aspect of the property-buying process in England and Wales. The reason for this is that an agreement to buy or sell a property doesn’t become legally binding until written contracts are exchanged, and until then neither party can be held to a prior verbal agreement.

When buying property in England and Wales the exchange of contracts between your conveyancer and the seller’s solicitor comes relatively late in the process – after you have arranged for a property survey, your conveyancer has conducted the necessary searches and you have received your mortgage offer. This means that there’s typically a delay of at least several weeks between the seller accepting your offer and that agreement actually becoming legally binding.

Within this period, the seller may accept an offer from another buyer in preference to yours. This is usually because a higher purchase price has been offered – although this is more likely to happen when there is a strong property market with lots of demand driving house prices up. 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 they can squeeze a little extra out of you.

Strictly speaking, you can be gazumped if the seller decides to reject your offer in favour of another buyer’s for any reason – it doesn’t have to be for an offer of more money. For example, if you are experiencing delays with the conveyancer or your mortgage application, the seller may decide to accept an alternative offer from a buyer who already has a mortgage offer in place, in order to facilitate a quicker sale.

What can you do to avoid gazumping?

Act quickly

It’s unlikely that you will have all the elements for the purchase in place when you first make your offer. There are some checks that you will want to carry out first. You will probably want to arrange a survey, for example, and this takes time. The quicker you are at getting these complete, the less opportunity there is for gazumping.

Obtain a mortgage in principle

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.

Find a conveyancing solicitor in advance

Similarly, finding 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.

Line your surveyor up quickly

Having a surveyor in mind means you can make that call and organize a survey as soon as you are ready to proceed. You can get quotes from Chartered Surveyors for a HomeBuyer Report or a Building Survey here at reallymoving.

Get the property off the market

Ask that the property be taken off the market as part of making your offer. The seller should be willing to do this, especially if they know that you are serious and ready to move quickly. While sellers are under no obligation to take a property off the market, they can often be surprisingly amenable to this, particularly in areas with a fairly flat housing market.

Get a lock in agreement

A lock in agreement (sometimes called a lock out, preliminary or exclusivity agreement) is a binding agreement in which the seller agrees not to negotiate with any other parties within a fixed period, allowing the buyer to arrange their mortgage etc. without fear of being gazumped.

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. This may also be something you want to consider when selecting a solicitor.

Get insurance

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.

Updated March 2020

Comments (10)

  • Howard Wu

    posted on 29 Mar 2014

    The property we are buying has been gazumped, but the seller blame our solicitor of being slow, in fact that is not true, so they withdraw the sale of the property to us on that reason. But now we found out that they had accepted an higher offer from another buyer without telling us. We have spent thousands on mortgage arrangement fees, valuation cost and solicitor fees. Can we claim any of our money back from the seller? I know gazumping is legal in England but not telling the truth for the reason of withdraw the sale to us. Do we have a case here? We are three thousand pounds out of pocket, please help

    Jon

    posted on 19 Jun 2014

    DISCLOSURE - I have a business relationship with AssuredSale Howard, just read you comment. Really sorry to hear this - it's completely wrong this happens and it should be illegal. Currently, you can't get your money back. If you're still in the market, take a look at AssuredSale. The owners both lost thousands and their dream homes - exactly like you, days before exchange of contracts. To help put an end to sharp practices in the market they've set up a service which commits both buyer and seller at verbal offer using a deposit scheme. In addition to the great tips mentioned above, it's another possibility worth considering to give you surety.

    JimBob

    posted on 8 Feb 2018

    Yeap gazumping is really bad and we are running through it again with Tepilo and once again there are no other bids, so there just pushing us to up our price. Lets just say I've never been run over by big company's that think of themselves as invincible as they only deal with the general Public.

    patricia bromwich

    posted on 15 Feb 2018

    We have just returned to the UK after living in Spain for 17 years and we have sold our property there. The system for selling a property in Spain mirrors the description you gave in the 'Lock in /out Agreement. A 10% deposit is paid by the purchaser, a mutually agreed contract with time scale for final payment,again between purchaser and vendor,is legally written. It works well as no-one wants to lose a deposit ( purchaser ) or have to pay back double the deposit ( vendor ). There are other drawbacks about selling a property in Spain which would never happen in the UK, but it's another story, We are back in the UK now and house hunting and into the reality of greedy vendor syndrome.

    Tim Butt

    posted on 14 Apr 2019

    We had an offer accepted on a property, then when dropping our keys into the agent for viewings we had that weekend we’re told the property we were buying was sold 3 weeks ago !? Same agent selling ours as the one we wanted to buy, they admitted they should have told us when the other offer was made/accepted but doesn’t help us now having a cash buyer for ours but no property to move to, not sure but I’ve heard they should have told us, thinking of complaining to the ombudsman? Any ideas ?

    Franco

    posted on 12 May 2019

    gazumping should be illegal It is not fair for buyers I just find out after my offer has been accepted there is another 2 offer accepted Agent never told us .about this I think we should ask for lock out agreement This is unbelievable this should not happen once 1 offer has been accepted The law needs to be changed to prevent people losing money in this way

    Katie

    posted on 25 Oct 2019

    We have just been gazumped, it should be illegal I hope this happens soon, luckily we had not paid out that much, I find the act morally reprehensible

    Daco

    posted on 10 Feb 2020

    To all those complaining about the morality and legality of gazumping - what about "gazundering" ?
It happens - more often than you think - the BUYER actually LOWERS their bid very late in the day with a view to forcing the SELLER to accept a lower offer in order to avoid the entire process collapsing and being back to square one.

Greedy sellers? What about immoral buyers?

I speak from experience.

    Elemer

    posted on 27 Feb 2020

    The whole process needs a reset.
I have tried buying 2 different houses so far and I am still renting, first one decided not to sell (did sold a year later), second one lied that "change of circumstances" , but we were actually gazumped.
In my experience the first time buyer is the worst hit, I still pay someone else's mortgage.
People with chain might rant a bit, but still carry on paying their own mortgage.

    Mrs. Muhammad

    posted on 19 Mar 2020

    We've had an offer accepted with a 2 week window in the offer form. The broker is now telling us another broker submitted an offer to the seller, and now the seller is asking both parties to come back with a final offer As far as I'm concerned we're within our 2 week window, and the seller shouldn't be able to do this.

    Reallymoving response

    Hi there,

    Unfortunately in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is nothing in place to stop the seller accepting a differen't/higher offer at any point up until exchange of contracts.

    We wish you the best of luck with your purchase.

    Kind regards,
    reallymoving

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