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Property: What to do if you can’t sell your home

Charlotte Duck | Tuesday, September 19 2023

Rising interest rates and a cost of living crisis have played havoc with the UK property market.

Price reductions are now at 36%, the highest level since January 2011, and many vendors are struggling to sell their homes, even after they’ve already dropped the price, according to Rightmove.

So, what can be done? We spoke to the experts and asked their advice for frustrated sellers wanting to move things along.

This included when to reduce asking prices (and by how much), plus if, and when, you should change agents.

What usually happens when you list a property?

Before going to market, it’s useful to be aware of the “normal” pattern of behaviour in property sales. That way, you can plan and best judge what to do if you don’t get an offer immediately.

“When you’re selling your home, it’s the first two to three weeks that are telling. That will indicate how realistic your chances are of selling at the agreed price,” says James Moran, head of London selling, Middleton Advisors.

“Once you’ve passed the three- to four-week period, this is when your agent may have run out of ideas if they don’t have a proper strategy and have just got it out on all the portals; they’ll have probably done everything digitally, so they’ll become distant and less responsive.”

Read more: How to improve your credit score before buying a house

Moran describes the first month as a “honeymoon period”, when there are plenty of viewings and interest, perhaps two viewings a week. This could drop down to one and then nothing.

“Once the viewings drop, that is a clear indication that an agent has run out of ideas, exhausted their resources and will probably start to suggest lowering the price,” Moran adds.

The current market is particularly sluggish. “Agents (in Central London) have found themselves confronted by a market where 80% of properties are failing to sell within the first three months and around a quarter of properties are on the market for over a year,” says Alex Broadfoot of Engel & Volkers London.

So, if you’re having trouble selling, take heart that you are not alone. In these unusual times, it’s definitely worth having a Plan B price agreed with your agent, even before you initially list your property.

“Have a pricing plan in place prior to launch, so the decision to adjust the price is a pre-planned rational one, not having to be made at a time of considerable stress,” says Broadfoot.

What minor things will help you sell?

If your property has been on the market for a while, there are some things you can do without resorting to more drastic measures such as price reductions.

Giving it a decorative refresh, especially at the front, will improve buyers’ first impressions and you should also look into if there is the potential for extra planning permission.

“If there is potential to extend the property, planning permission can be attained with relatively little cost. If a home has permission in place to create a new storey, fill in a side return or dig a basement, does it become more attractive than a comparable one that doesn’t? In most cases, yes,” says Broadfoot.

When should you reduce the asking price?

Timing your reduction will largely be down to how motivated you are to sell.

If you’ve found a property you want to buy or need to move urgently for work, schools or another reason, you’ll often be more willing to reduce the price than someone who’s just testing out the market to see what they can get.

Read more: How to sell a property in a tricky market

“[Personal circumstances] dictate how and when you should drop the price,” says Matthew Morton-Smith, partner, Tedworth Property. “Estate agents should always be consulting their clients about timing requirements.

“The greatest stress in moving comes when there is a pressure or need that hasn’t been given appropriate consideration in the advice that has been given.”

Sellers tend to sign up with an agent for around 12 weeks so, when your contract is up for renewal, this might be a good opportunity to consider a price reduction, if interest is lagging and you are keen to sell.

“If after a reasonable period of time, (usually approximately three months) a property is not selling, we would suggest a price reduction. Simultaneously we would relaunch the property with new photography — just to give it a fresh look,” says Marc Schneiderman, director, Arlington Residential.

How much should you reduce it by?

The percentage reduction will depend on several factors, including your appetite to move, if you’ve seen something you want to buy, what similar properties have sold for, and price feedback from agents and potential buyers.

Read more: How long should you keep a property before selling?

“Price reductions should always make a difference and often be a very valuable and proactive action, but they should be seriously considered and strategic; any agent should be able to convey why any reduction is going to make a difference. You do not want to get it wrong and need to do it again in weeks to come,” says Morton-Smith.

Moran cautions about being swayed by online valuation tools when determining price. “Avoid at all costs any of the AI valuation tools. The algorithm valuation tools you find on Zoopla and The Move Market for example are unbelievably unreliable.”

When is it time to change agents?

If your property has been languishing on the market for months and you’ve reduced the price already, it might be time to opt for your trump card of changing agents.

“The time to change agents is once the viewings stop and they’re probably not calling back. When the communication breaks down it’s typically because your agent knows they’ve done everything they feel they can, the leads have run dry and, as a result, are ignoring you,” says Moran.

“If your agent is not used to selling properties of your type, price range and in your location, they are unlikely to have access to the best buyers and will be unaware of who has been waiting for a property such as yours,” says Schneiderman.

“If you are not getting regular feedback and viewings from your agent, then we would recommend a change of agents. We often hear from clients that when they have previously dealt with large corporate, multi-office and multinational estate agents, they can sometimes be ‘lost’ in the system.

“Presentation of your property is also key, as is the way it is promoted by your agent; so if the marketing collateral is not up to scratch, your property may well be overlooked.”

Read more: House prices: Is it better to rent than buy?

That said, there’s little point changing agents if the new agents haven’t got anything additional to offer.

“[Changing agents] will only work where there is a clear difference in strategy. Speak to your agent about the sales channels they have been using and how effective they have been,” says Broadfoot.

If you don’t feel that your agent has done a bad job, but want to try someone else, there’s always the option of appointing a joint agent.

“Staying loyal to an agent you have a good relationship with is always worthwhile, but it could be that appointing a joint agent might make a very positive difference and present your property to alternative buyer types,” says Morton-Smith.

Should you consider letting your property?

Another option available to some sellers who can’t sell is letting their property. While a viable last resort in years gone by, extra regulation and taxation of the lettings industry has made this a less attractive choice recently.

“The lettings market is hugely active and can offer a valuable alternative solution in the event of a suitable buyer not being found,” says Morton-Smith.

“However, it is a significant commitment and not without risk and hassle — there are many so-called ‘accidental landlords’ who have returned to the sales market as the benefits of letting are no longer what they once found.”

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