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Home Buying and Selling Process

As a general rule, the steps for buying or selling your home in the United Kingdom will take up to twelve weeks to complete. This guide explains when you need an Energy Performance Certificate, how to use an estate agent, and the rules for conveyancing and paying tax.

There are several key steps to follow when buying or selling your home:

  1. As a seller, you would need to provide an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for your property.
  2. Potential buyers need to make price offers through the estate agent if the seller is using one.
  3. After accepting a buyer’s offer, the seller is responsible for drawing up a legal contract for the transfer of ownership.
  4. Offers do not become legally binding until the actual contracts have been exchanged.
  5. Buyers may need to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax in England or Land Transaction Tax in Wales.

Note: The rules for joint property ownership (e.g. buying a house with someone else) allow for a maximum of three (3) other people.

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs)

Energy Performance Certificates give energy efficiency ratings to properties. They rank it from A (being the most efficient) to G (being the least efficient) and they will be valid for a period of ten (10) years.

An Energy Performance Certificate becomes a legal requirement any time a property is:

  • Built
  • Rented
  • Sold

Sellers and renters need to order an EPC for potential buyers or tenants before they start marketing the property (e.g. putting it up for sale or for rent).

The rules for EPCs differ somewhat in Scotland. Here, the seller would actually need to display the EPC certificate inside the property (e.g. next to the boiler).

EPCs contain:

  • Important information about energy usage as well as the typical energy costs for the property.
  • Some basic recommendations of methods used to reduce energy use and reduce the costs.

Note: The Energy saving Trust website contains further advice and information about home efficiency measures that help to keep homes warm and reduce carbon footprints.

How to Get an Energy Performance Certificate

The main responsibility for showing an EPC would fall on the person who is selling the property. Thus, the seller, landlord, or letting agent must show it to the buyer or renter.

Accredited assessors can assess properties for the purpose of producing Energy Performance Certificates. Sellers or renters can book a property assessment via:

Important: The Shelter Scotland website contains a simplified overview about the home buying process outside England and Wales.

What Property Does Not Need EPC?

Some of the typical buildings that do not need an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) include:

  • Holiday accommodation rented out for less than four (4) months per year or let under a licence to occupy.
  • Industrial sites, non-residential agricultural buildings, and workshops that use very little energy.
  • Listed buildings (your local authority conservation officer can give further advice if the work will alter the character of a listed building).
  • Places of worship.
  • Residential buildings that are likely to be used less than four (4) months per year.
  • Selected buildings due to be demolished.
  • Stand-alone buildings with total useful floor space less than fifty (50) square metres.
  • Temporary buildings used for less than two (2) years.

Note: Failing to get an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) when needed can result in a fine.

How to See EPC of Other Properties UK

You can find an energy certificate, along with recommendation reports, for properties in England, Wales, and in Northern Ireland via the GOV.UK website.

The service is free of charge and a useful way of comparing the energy performance of your home with similar ones. You can conduct a search using the EPC report reference number or the address of the property.

Even so, if you prefer not to have people see your EPC details, you can use the same link to opt out of the EPC register.

Note: Another section explains more about Energy Performance Certificates for business premises and how to appeal a penalty charge.

Using an Estate Agent

In most cases, buyers and sellers use estate agents to help them buy or sell a home. In this case, a seller would need to sign a legally binding contract with the agent.

Some of the legal obligations for businesses that engage in residential estate agency work, include:

  • Treating all potential buyers with fairness.
  • Providing written documentation to the seller about any offers made and without any undue delay.
  • Forwarding any other offers submitted for the property up to the time when the buyer and seller exchange contracts.
  • Registering with a redress scheme as a property agent (e.g. TPOS).

Important: Sellers can be taken to court if they fail to follow the terms stated in the contractual agreement.

How to Complain about an Estate Agent

What if you have an issue with the estate agent? If so, you should make a direct complaint to them in the first instance. Doing so gives them a reasonable opportunity to solve the complaint.

If the estate agent fails to find an acceptable solution, you can make an official complaint to one of the following redress schemes (whichever the agent belongs to):

Property Redress Scheme
Tel: 0333 321 9418
Email: [email protected]

The Property Ombudsman
Tel: 01722 333306
Email: [email protected]

What Happens When Buyers Make Offers?

Potential buyers need to submit their offers through the estate agent if the seller is using one. But, buyers can make offers directly to sellers where it is a private sale, such as:

  • In person
  • Over the phone
  • In writing
  • Verbally

According to the law in England and Wales, offers submitted do not become legally binding until the buyer and the seller exchange the contract.

In some cases, a buyer may place an offer ‘subject to contract’. If so, they can continue negotiating the price. An example could be when a survey reveals a structural problem with the property.

Note: Some of the rules for buying or selling your home differ when making purchase offers for properties in Scotland.

Conveyancing (transferring ownership)

The seller will be responsible for drawing up a legal contract (to complete the transfer of ownership) once they accept the buyer’s offer.

Any contract drawn up between a home buyer and seller should contain the sale price, along with any relevant details regarding:

  • Fixtures and fittings (e.g. carpets, cupboards, kitchen units).
  • Legal restrictions or rights (e.g. rules about using the property, public footpaths).
  • Planning restrictions.
  • Your property boundaries.
  • Services to the property (e.g. drainage, gas, sewerage).
  • The date of completion.

It is not uncommon for a seller to hire the services of a solicitor (or conveyancer). If so, they will draft the initial contract, and:

  • Negotiate any appropriate details about the contract (where necessary).
  • Respond to questions from the buyer’s representative (with the help of the seller).
Process for Exchanging Contracts

At some point, the buyer and seller will usually be ready to exchange the contract. This is when both sides need to sign the final copies and send them to each other.

This type of agreement to sell and buy a property becomes legally binding after the exchange takes place. As a rule, neither the buyer or seller can withdraw from this contractual agreement without having to pay an amount of compensation to the other party.

Completion of Sale

The final steps for buying or selling your home begin after exchanging the contracts and handling any remaining checks or requests from the buyer. They include:

  1. Transferring the money from the buyer to the seller.
  2. Handing over the legal documents needed to transfer ownership to the buyer.
  3. The seller:
    1. Moving out of the property and leaving it in the same state as agreed in the contract.
    2. Handing over the keys to the new owner (the property would now belong to the buyer).

Note: Another section explains how to contact Citizens Advice if you need additional information about buying or selling your property.

Paying Stamp Duty Land Tax

In most cases, home buyers and sellers in the United Kingdom will have some tax to pay, such as:

Buying 8 July 2020 to 31 March 2021

If you bought a home in England between the 8th of July 2020 and the 31st of March 2021 you would pay Stamp Duty Land Tax if you paid over £500,000 for the property.

Buying before 8 July 2020 or after 31 March 2021

If you bought a home in England before the 8th of July 2020 (or after 31st of March 2021) you pay Stamp Duty Land Tax if you paid over £125,000 for the property.

Furthermore, if you are buying your first home, there is no need to pay tax provided the property purchase price is not over £300,000.

Guidance about Capital Gains Tax

You would not have Capital Gains Tax liabilities when selling (or ‘disposing of’) your home if (all):

  • You lived in the property as your main home for all the time that you owned it.
  • You did not let out any part of it (or used part of it for business only).
  • The grounds (including the buildings) occupy less than 5,000 square metres (e.g. a little over one acre in land size).

Meeting these criteria means you get a kind of tax relief called ‘Private Residence Relief‘ through an automatic process. Hence, there would be no specific action needed in relation to Capital Gains Tax.

Note: Swapping something with economic value for a property, such as another property or shares, means you would need to pay the tax.

Related Help Guides

How to Buy or Sell Your Home in the United Kingdom