Home is where the 'for sale' sign is.
September 11, 2012 4:02 AM   Subscribe

My flat has been on the market forever, and nothing has worked out. Advice and encouragement requested.

My flat is a studio in a London burb which has been on the market since February (so, not forever exactly, but it feels like it). It is in good condition, in a nice complex, and other flats nearby exactly like it have been sold recently. It's priced realistically (around the same price as the similar flats got sold for). On the minus side, it's a studio flat, and the lease is about 77 years, so not terribly long.

I've had 3 offers for the flat in that time. 2 were later withdrawn by the prospective buyers (they changed their minds). I accepted the 3rd, and we went quite a ways towards exchange and completion before the buyer backed out with no words of explanation, leaving me completely disheartened and a few hundred pounds in legal fees poorer.

I don't know what to do. It is currently still on the market but I'm not having many viewings requested at all. I think that as we get to winter I'm going to have to take it off the market. I don't think it's good for a property to be on the market forever. It is only listed with 1 estate agent.

I like the flat but do not want to live there for ages longer - I need more space. I am feeling extremely discouraged by the thought of being stuck here for months and months. I am looking for practical advice in how to sell it off quickly. But in the absence of that, anecdotes and words of encouragement would be good too!
posted by Ziggy500 to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Your agent has given up on it by the sounds of things. I imagine you're well past the lockin period with your agent by now: write to them terminating the arrangement according to the terms in your contract with them, and go talk to some other estate agents.

The property market in London is supposed to be reasonably hot right now: there's no reason you shouldn't be able to sell your flat. Go talk to a bunch of estate agents and ask them for a valuation & whether there's anything you can do to improve the likelihood of a quick sale. It would probably be possible to extend the lease for instance.
posted by pharm at 4:15 AM on September 11, 2012

If you want to sell quickly, your chances will improve if you accept less. Otherwise, there has to be something compelling that makes paying the asking price acceptable. Why did the buyer walk? Did your agent explain why? At the very least, your agent should probably request earnest money or a holding deposit from prospective buyers who are serious about the process, so that you are not left with fees if a buyer walks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:17 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Blazecock: It's *very* unusual for either party to a sale in the UK to put any money upfront until "exchange" (the point at which the sale becomes legally binding on both parties). In the case the OP cites, the buyer would also have probably had to pay to engage a solicitor and probably for a survey as well.
posted by pharm at 4:26 AM on September 11, 2012

Response by poster: Just to add on the back of pharm's last comment: it appears that the buyer walked before even booking the survey, so it doesn't appear to be a structural problem with my flat that caused her to change her mind.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:31 AM on September 11, 2012

My parents had a lackadaisical real estate agent (this is in the US) for about a year trying to sell their house. They found a new agent who had a good reputation and who had been selling houses in their area. He jumped in, told them what they needed to do (replace the older ultra-plush carpet with cheap new carpet, paint everything beige, etc.) and they sold the place within 2 weeks. You really need someone who knows what they are doing and actually cares that your place sells.
posted by Kimberly at 4:34 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's possibly your leasehold being too short. I recently bought a flat and it had about that many years left. We required the current owners to extend the lease to 150 years before we would consider it. This place actually needs a lot of work, but with such a short leasehold it wasn't even a consideration for our mortgage approval.
posted by like_neon at 4:34 AM on September 11, 2012

I'd definitely review the progress with the agency first. They are supposed to be helping you sell the property, so ask them about what they're doing. This is one of those cases where if you regularly check in with them, they are more likely to be thinking about the property. What do they think about the price, the lease, what enquiries are they getting on the property?

If they don't seem engaged then definitely get a better agency and you might then find that a price drop, or increasing the lease will help, but I'd make sure that you have the right people trying to sell the flat first.
posted by crocomancer at 4:47 AM on September 11, 2012

Having house(flat)-hunted recently (less than a year ago), we given the advice of not considering anything with a lease less than... 85 years I think. So like like_neon says, it could be that.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:06 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The obvious stuff: Remove as much clutter as you can. Hire a storage facility if you can. Give all the walls a lick of paint. Clean your carpets. Hide bald patches if you can. Make your bed with clean bedding. Clean your windows. Your buyer will not be wanting to spend a bean on maintenance in their first two years, I'd bet. They want a foothold.

Give your buyers a sense of lifestyle. You need them to walk into your flat and see themselves in there. They have to want, a little, of what you have. Stop thinking of it as your home, and think of it as a show home. Hard to do when it's been on the market for so long but worth readdressing.

Above all, change your estate agent. Chances are you are priced too high, and your flat is no longer being marketed properly. Try and find an agent that specialises in flats like yours. For example, who have the other flats sold through?

77 years is not a super short lease, but if the next owners want to live in your place for 5 years, then they have to sell a flat with 72 years on the lease or else extend it. But outside prime property studios are starter homes typically and buyers are looking for something that won't require them to spend a lot of cash they could use to upsize. You have to factor in depreciation too.

On my street, houses sell really quickly. But two houses have sold really slowly. Nice houses, but the price was super high for each of them and this is a buyer's market. FWIW, a mate of mine was selling a lovely little flat down from mine and he's had a nightmare. It has just sold, but was on the market for most of the year too. He had to change agents, and doing so yielded a buyer quickly. Above that, the issue, I think, is that mortgage providers are requiring much higher % equity to mortgage to get any sort of reasonable deal.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:27 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Extend the lease. I'd hesitate to buy a flat with a 77-year lease. Possibly, a mortgage company would too.
posted by ComfySofa at 5:49 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in the US and the lease-hold thing sounds like an impediment. What does it cost to extend it?

You need an agent who will tell you the truth about your property.

Interview new agents. Invite them up and ask them for an honest appraisal. Hire the one who is the most brutal.

I agree with MuffinMan, stage it. I know that it's not as popular in the UK as it is in the US. If you want tips go to HGTV.com and check out clips from a show called Designed to Sell.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:28 AM on September 11, 2012

I was curious about leaseholding, and did some Googling and it looks like there are some potential issues if the lease dips below 80 years. As others have mentioned, that's probably a big part of the problem.
posted by Kimberly at 9:01 AM on September 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks guys. Yes, I think the lease extension would be a good bet but I understand it costs a lot of money - like a few thousand - hence my reluctance but I will check it out as it varies according to individual circumstances. I've already been considering changing my agent so good to know other people think that's a good idea! Fingers crossed.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:20 AM on September 12, 2012

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