Is this legally binding?
It is important to be aware that at this stage (for properties in England and Wales) neither the buyer nor seller are legally committed to proceed with the transaction – this only happens later once you have signed and exchanged contracts. Prior to the exchange of contracts, you can choose not to complete the purchase and you have the right to withdraw your offer without facing a financial penalty. Similarly, the seller is not committed to the sale just because they have accepted an offer. In fact, it is possible for buyers to be “gazumped” – this is where a seller accepts another buyer’s offer in preference to yours.
In Scotland, once your offer has been accepted by the seller the deal is instantly legally binding. This is because home surveys and additional background checks have already been carried out and are included in the Home Report which the seller must make available to any potential buyers when the property goes on the market.
Whilst your offer is subject to contract your property solicitor will move forward with the conveyancing process, which includes carrying out “searches” to ensure there are, for instance, no plans to build a motorway near the property, no disputes over the land or boundaries, or to check that there are no known environmental hazards to the property (such as flood risk).
Getting a survey
At this stage you should also consider employing a chartered surveyor to carry out a home survey which will highlight any structural issues or defects. Getting a survey can potentially save you thousands of pounds in costly repair bills – one report by Which? concluded that one in ten homebuyers who don’t get a survey end up paying more than £10,000 on property repairs or maintenance.
We recommend obtaining either a HomeBuyer Report or a Building Survey from a qualified surveyor registered with RICS (the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). The HomeBuyer Report rates the condition of various elements of the property using a “traffic light” system, and provides advice on repair and maintenance options where required. The Building Survey goes into much greater detail than the HomeBuyer Report – and is usually recommended for older or larger properties, or homes in a poor state of repair – but both are equally acceptable in terms of evaluating a property’s construction and condition. To help you choose a reliable property surveyor, our comparison service allows you to compare instant quotes for both HomeBuyer Reports and Buildings Surveys from RICS-accredited surveyors in your local area.
Once your surveyor and conveyancer have carried out all the necessary checks on the property and you are happy to proceed, your conveyancer will ask you to read and agree to the terms of your contract. The next step is to exchange contracts with the seller.
Read our guide to exchanging house contracts as you head towards your completion date.
For a step-by-step guide on what to do following your offer being accepted, take a look at our article, '10 essential steps after having your offer accepted on a house'.
Last reviewed May 2016.