Best tips for selling your house in 2021

2021 has been an exceptional year in the property market, with record-breaking sales in June. If you’re thinking of putting your home on the market, we’ll take you through the major stages and share some tips on how to sell your house.

2021 has been an exceptional year in the property market, with record-breaking sales in June. If you’re thinking of putting your home on the market, we’ll take you through the major stages and share some tips on how to sell your house.

Chris King
Home insurance expert
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Posted 19 AUGUST 2021

Selling your home, step by step 

From preparation to completion, we’ll take you through the process of selling your house. 

1. Decide whether you want to move 

Moving house is exciting, but it can be stressful and costly too. So before you take the plunge, be as sure as you can be that you really want to move. If you’re looking to try life in a different location, you might want to rent there first to see what living there is like. And if it’s more space you’re after, it might be worth investigating whether to move or improve.

2. Work out if you can afford to sell your house 

Buying a house costs money – but selling one can be expensive too. There are many costs to take into consideration when you sell your home. You’ll have to think about estate agent’s commission (if you use an estate agent), solicitor’s fees, Stamp Duty and removal costs, not to mention home improvements if you want to spruce up your house before putting it on the market. 

You’ll also need to know where you are with your mortgage. Check if there are early repayment charges for switching to another mortgage provider or if you can transfer your mortgage to a new property – this is called ‘porting’ a mortgage

If you’re planning to move to a more expensive property, you’ll want to work out how much you need to borrow. Use our mortgage calculator to get an idea of how much you could afford for your next home. 

After finding out how much you can afford to mortgage, use our stamp duty calculator for guidance about the costs you may need to pay on the property.

Just be aware that your home or property may be repossessed if you don’t keep up repayments on a mortgage

If you decide you’d rather earn an income by renting out your house instead of selling it, then it’s very likely that you’ll need to change your mortgage to a buy-to-let mortgage. Get in touch with your lender and they’ll be able to advise you. You’ll also want to look at landlord insurance.

3. Get your home ready for sale 

Once you’ve decided to sell, your aim should be a quick sale at the best possible price. A way of helping achieve this is to improve your property’s ‘kerb appeal’. Even small improvements can make a big difference. 

Our top tips for making your home more attractive to potential buyers include: 

  • Mow the lawn, weed the beds, clean windows and fix any broken fences, sheds or gates
  • Give the front door a new lick of paint
  • Add a splash of colour with hanging baskets or potted plants
  • Tidy up and get rid of clutter in the house, garage and garden
  • Fix the little jobs, like a dripping tap, saggy guttering, peeling wallpaper or dirty grouting
  • Consider repainting your rooms – a fresh coat of light-coloured paint is a great way to introduce light
  • If you don’t want the expense of a total kitchen makeover, simply replacing handles and knobs can instantly spruce up tired-looking units
  • Stage each room for its original purpose – if you’ve been using the dining room as a makeshift playroom, clear away the toys so it looks like a dining room again

4. Find out how much your property is worth 

Get valuations from a number of estate agents. They can advise you but, ultimately, it’s up to you to decide on an asking price.

You can also do your own research by looking at how much properties near you have sold for – you’ll find this information on the Land Registry website.

The valuations, together with your own research into recently sold properties, should give you a fair idea of how much to set the asking price at. The important thing is to be realistic. Too high, and you risk putting buyers off. If you set the asking price too low you might get a quicker sale, but you could be selling yourself short to a buyer with an eye for a bargain.

5. Decide how you want to sell your home 

You can sell your home privately yourself, through a local high-street agent, or via an online estate agent. 

Selling privately
If you’re prepared to do the legwork, selling your house privately could save you thousands in estate agent’s fees. It could be a good idea if you’re selling to someone you know or if the market is buoyant and you’re confident of a quick sale.

There are several websites for private sellers, but it’s an involved process and you’ll need to do a lot of the work yourself - from advertising your property and organising house viewings, to making sure all the documents relating to your home are in order. Another downside to selling privately is that you can’t advertise on national real estate sites, like Rightmove and Zoopla.

Local estate agent
This is still the most common way of selling property in the UK. The benefit of using a local, high-street estate agent is that a good one will have local knowledge and successful experience of selling properties in your area. In most cases, they’ll offer a full service - from advertising and accompanied viewings to arranging the energy performance certificate.

But an estate agent’s commission can make a significant dent in your house-selling budget. On average, fees can range between 1% and 2% for a sole agency (when you sell your house through just one agent), to as much as 3% if you sell through more than one estate agency.

Many sellers opt for local agents who charge a ‘no sale no fee’ commission, which means you won’t lose money if the house doesn’t sell. Fees are negotiable so don’t be afraid to try to haggle down the rate.

Just be aware that if you use an estate agent, potential buyers must make any offers through them; they can’t cut out the middleman and deal with you directly. If you accept an offer, the estate agent is legally obliged to pass on any other offers right up until the exchange of contracts.

Online estate agent
Another option is selling via an online estate agent. This could be cheaper than using a high-street agency because online agents usually charge one-off fees, rather than a percentage of the selling price. However, online estate agents may offer fewer services than the high-street version. For example, you may still have to do the viewings yourself. You might also have to pay the fee upfront.

It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of each method before you decide which is the best way to sell your home.

Property auction
If you want to sell your house quickly, you might consider selling at auction. Property auctions are particularly popular with buy-to-let investors and those looking for major renovation projects.

Selling at auction is a much quicker process. If your home goes under the hammer on auction day, the buyer will need to put down a 10% deposit right away. The remaining amount should be paid to you within 28 days.

Just bear in mind that you’ll need to pay the auction house an entry fee, which can range from a few hundred to thousands of pounds, even if the property doesn’t sell. On top of this, you’ll be charged a commission, which is typically around 2.5% plus VAT. Plus, you’ll have to pay a solicitor for preparing the auction legal pack, which they do prior to the auction.

6. Prepare your home for marketing 

Before your property is listed, you’ll need to get photographs organised. If you’re going with a high-street agent, they should send a professional photographer to do this.  

On the day, make sure your home is spotless, clutter-free and looking its very best. Clear your kitchen worktops and surfaces, and add a touch of colour with flower arrangements. Make sure the bedding is smooth and crease-free.
Mow the lawn and move the car from the driveway.

As well as photographs and, in some cases, virtual tours, your property listing should also contain a floor plan and a description summarising the main features of your home. Ask to check before it’s published in case there are any mistakes or something’s missing. 

Your home is now ready to be marketed. Your estate agent should list it online on their own website and popular real estate portals. Make sure you’re listed on Rightmove, as this is one of the most popular portals with prospective buyers.

7. Get your documents in order 

Having all your documents organised early in the process can help things go smoothly later on. You’ll need to sort out: 

8. Find a solicitor or conveyancer 

Legal services around transferring the ownership of a property are known as conveyancing. You can choose to have a solicitor or a conveyancer carry out these services on your behalf.

They’ll draft the initial contract, negotiate and change the details where necessary. They’ll also carry out property searches to uncover any problems relating to the property that you’re obliged to let the buyer know about, for example, flood risk, Japanese knotweed or disputes with the neighbours. 

When looking for a solicitor or conveyancer, shop around to get prices, being sure to find out whether the price is a fixed fee and whether it includes VAT. It’s also important to find out if you’ll be charged if a sale falls through. 

Did you know? 

When selling your house, you’re legally obliged to give prospective buyers information about your property that could affect their decision to buy. As part of the conveyancing process, you must fill in a Property Information Form (TA6), which your solicitor or conveyancer can help you with. It’s important to be honest about any issues to avoid the risk of being sued for misinformation.

9. Show your property 

Once your property is on the market, it’s time for the all-important house viewings. Whether the estate agent conducts the viewings or you choose to do them yourself, you’ll want to make sure your home looks its best.

Tips for viewing days: 

  • Tidy up and declutter all surfaces around your home
  • Make sure the house is clean and fresh-smelling – particularly important if you have pets
  • If it’s a cold day, light the fire to give the house a warm and welcoming feel
  • Move your car from the driveway – it gives visitors a better view of the property when they first drive up, as well as somewhere to park

10. Receive offers 

Once viewings begin, hopefully the offers will start coming in. If you’re using an estate agent, offers will be made through them.

It’s great to be in a position where you have multiple offers on the table. But consider them carefully. The highest bid may not necessarily be the best for you. A good estate agent can give you the lowdown on each bidder’s situation. For example: 

  • Chain-free cash buyers who aren’t reliant on a mortgage, or homeowners who have already completed on their own sale, are generally considered the safest types of buyer.
  • First-time buyers might not be stuck in a chain, but they could have more difficulty securing a large mortgage.
  • Homeowners who have yet to sell their property are a higher risk as their own sale could fall through, causing significant delays.

11. Accept or negotiate an offer 

Ideally, you’ll be looking for an offer as near to the asking price as possible. But most buyers will want to negotiate by offering less. Your estate agent should be able to advise you but, ultimately, it’s up to you whether to accept an offer, refuse or negotiate.

If you decide to negotiate, consider: 

  • What’s the buyer’s situation – cash buyer, chain, etc?
    • How likely is it they’ll increase their offer and by how much?
  • Are there any other potential buyers interested?
  • How quickly do you need to sell?
  • How long has your home been on the market?
  • Are other properties in your area struggling to sell? 

Negotiating can be nerve-wracking but if you can hold out, you might get an offer you’re happy with. There’s also the chance your buyer will walk away. Consider what’s right for you and whether it’s a fair offer or not.

12. Start house-hunting 

Let’s face it, you’ve probably started already, but there are good reasons to hold off serious house-hunting until you’ve accepted an offer and your home is sold subject to contract (SSTC). At this point you’ll be in a much better position to make an offer on a property, especially if you find yourself up against other interested buyers. It will also save you the heartache of finding your dream home early on, only to lose it because you weren’t ready.

13. Drafting and exchanging contracts 

Once you accept an offer for your home, the next stage is for contracts to be drafted. There may be more negotiations at this point – for example, the buyer may ask to review the price after they’ve had a survey carried out. You’ll also need to decide what fixtures and fittings are to be included in the sale, and the length of time between contracts being exchanged and the sale being completed. 

Until contracts are exchanged (or, in Scotland, the process of concluding the missives is completed), either party can pull out of the sale if they want to.

But once contracts are exchanged, the sale becomes legally binding. If the buyer pulls out, they’ll lose their deposit; if you pull out, you’ll need to return their deposit with interest.

If you’re buying another property, now’s the time to get buildings insurance in place for your new home. You can move out at any time, right up until completion day.

14. Completing the sale 

This is it – the property is officially sold. You hand over the keys to your buyer and the money and deeds are transferred to your solicitor. Your solicitor will then register the transfer of ownership with the Land Registry. Congratulations.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to sell a home?

According to government figures, selling a home usually takes two to three months. But it can take longer, especially if you’re in a chain.

What is a property chain?

A property chain is when buyers and sellers are linked together because their house purchase or sale is reliant on someone else’s transaction. This typically happens when someone is buying a home while selling their current one at the same time. So, if you’re selling your home and you need to complete before you can finance the purchase of your next home, you’re in a chain. The risk is that if someone pulls out and the chain breaks down, your sale or purchase could fall through.

How can I avoid a property chain?

If you get multiple offers, choose a buyer who isn’t tied up in a property chain themselves, for example, a cash buyer who isn’t reliant on the sale of a property or a mortgage.

It might also be worth selling your property, then moving into short-term rental accommodation until you find your next home to buy. This will give you more time to house-hunt and will mean you’re a chain-free buyer.

My house isn’t selling, what should I do?

If your house has been on the market for a while, it’s at risk of becoming ‘stale’. Talk to your estate agent and reassess the situation. 

The first thing is to look at the price. Is it too high? Are you willing to lower it?

It could also be that your estate agent isn’t working hard enough. As new properties are listed, the energies of your estate agent may go into them rather than a property that’s been on the market for a while. If this is the case, it may be worth looking for a new agent. 

But it might simply be the wrong time of year. It can be much harder to sell a property in late autumn and the run-up to Christmas than in spring, for example. 

It might be worth considering taking your property off the market altogether, then listing it with another agent when the time is right and market conditions improve.

Can I sell my house during COVID-19?

Yes, you can. Estate agents are now open, although the government recommends that initial viewings should be done virtually. Your estate agent should be able to arrange this for you.

Find out about the latest government advice on home moving during COVID-19.

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