The simple answer to this question is yes, you can place on offer on a house that is sold subject to contract.
The phrase sold subject to contract, or sold STC, means both sellers and buyers parties intend to make an agreement. An offer has likely been agreed on a property, but the contracts have not yet been exchanged. At this stage you would presume buyers and sellers are working with their conveyancing solicitor in contract negotiations.
The ball might have already started rolling for the sale of this property but, the house can still remain on the market. It is now presented with a sold subject to contract label.
Difference between ‘under offer’ and ‘sold subject to contract’
When a property is ‘under offer’ this usually means that there is an interested buyer who has proposed a purchase price to the seller. The seller is still in the decision-making phase however and may still be completely open to new offers. There is no informal or formal agreement between the buyer and seller.
Sold STC is slightly different. This term usually indicates that an offer has been agreed but a contract has not yet been agreed or signed. A formal contract is yet to be completed as it will be subject to the outcome of surveys, approval from the buyer’s mortgage lender and terms within the contract.
In the same way that a property that is not yet let, but is given the label ‘let agreed,’ ‘sold STC’ acts as a temporary placeholder. This way the property can remain on the market for interested buyers to place offers or register their interest.
Exchange of contracts
Conveyancing a property is typically a lengthy process that can take around a minimum of 4 weeks. See our previous article for a breakdown of the conveyancing process.
Briefly put, a conveyancing solicitor will carry out a number of checks and guide you through drawing up the ‘heads of terms’ for the exchange contract.
Once contracts are signed by both parties and exchanged, the agreement is legally binding. The property is then classified as sold and the seller can no longer make any agreements with outside parties. If there was ever a breach in the contract and the seller did try to make a deal with another interested party, the buyer would be well within their rights to take the vendor to a court of appeals.
Is it safe to give an offer on a house being sold subject to contract?
If your main approach to house hunting is giving offers on properties that are sold subject to contract, you’re probably not going to have much luck. This is because an informal agreement has already been made between buyer and seller.
The likelihood is that there was already a build-up to this agreement. The seller may have received multiple offers and this was the best offer that was accepted. The buyer and seller may have built a relationship in the process. Or, the seller just isn’t interested in taking anymore offers because they want to sell this property quickly.
There can also be an influence of morals, if an agreement has been made between two parties, breaking this agreement can lead to conflict. Some sellers may therefore avoid this situation altogether.
Our thoughts on the situation are, if you believe you have found your dream home and weren’t able to act quickly enough before it was sold STC, make an offer. The ball is then in the seller’s court and they will be the only one to make the decision. You can’t guarantee anything but it can always be worth a shot. Just don’t let your hopes get too high!
Reasons why a sale might not succeed
We mentioned before how the label ‘sold STC’ is a temporary placeholder whilst all the necessary proceedings occur. During this stage, there are any number of complications that could cause the sale to fall through.
If these circumstances do occur and you placed an offer on a house whilst it was sold subject to contract, you’ll likely be one of the first people to be contacted once it is back on the market.
Some of the complications that may cause the sale to fall through can include:
- Buyers change their mind and pull out of the agreement
- Either party might be part of a chain which falls apart. This would mean resetting and restarting the process.
- The market changes drastically and the sellers want a better offer
- The buyer gets gazumped
Offers can certainly still be made on a house that is sold subject to contract. There are no legal agreements in place at that point. A seller could therefore tell their estate agent that they are willing to assess other offers.
Gazumping is something that occurs far less frequently nowadays but is not completely uncommon. Today, it is seen as slightly more immoral than it used to be. The action of gazumping involves dropping the current buyer for someone with a better offer. Whilst desirable for sellers looking to make money on a property, this can be heart wrenching for a buyer who got their hopes caught up.
A buyer is gazumped when a seller accepts a higher offer from another party. This can occur whilst the property is under offer or sold STC but not after contracts are exchanged. As a buyer there is not much you can do when this situation occurs, other than providing a counter offer that is higher than the ‘gazumper’s’. This could lead to a bidding war and agreeing to a price that you didn’t actually want to pay. If you are unable to do this, the only thing you can do is let the property go and look elsewhere with the experience that this does occur.
What can you do to prevent being gazumped?
This is certainly a big question as it is something that all buyers want to secure. There is no simple answer however. If there is limited supply and high demand in the property market, you should consider that it is a possibility. Your best chance is to encourage a relationship with the buyer and their estate agent. Your most productive approach would be to have the property completely taken off the market.
In some circumstances, you may be able to create a written agreement that states the seller will not accept offers from other parties within an agreed amount of time. This action has been performed before and a buyer has been able to sue their seller for damages when another offer was accepted.
The sellers actions are at their discretion however. The only other thing you can hope for is a simple and fast conveyancing process. The sooner you get the contracts signed, the better.
So, to answer the overarching question, yes you can place an offer on a house that is sold subject to contract. There are plenty of risks associated with buying a house. In reality, a property is never securely yours until the point of completion. Even after exchange, your mortgage application can be rejected, causing you to lose 10% of your deposit if you have to pull out of the sale.
Gazumping is a possibility for those properties where you want to get your foot in the door at the last minute. However, you should certainly consider that the seller may not even consider your offer. Even if it is accepted, you have disrupted a pre-existing agreement. We recommend choosing your actions wisely and deciding whether it is certainly worth it to give an offer.
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