What happens when a sale falls through?

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the sale of a house to fall through.  Figures show that around one in three house purchases in the UK do not reach completion. There can be many reasons for a sale falling through, from issues with mortgages, problems found in searches, breaks in the chain, or a buyer simply changing their mind.

Topics to be answered in this article

Reasons why the buyer may pull out

There may be numerous reasons that a buyer may pull out of a house sale with some of these being out of their control.


A buyer may experience difficulties in getting a mortgage, mortgage lending criteria changes particularly following market trends and it may result in mortgage products being withdrawn or rates changing so much that a buyer can no longer afford the mortgage repayments, as we are seeing currently. That being said if a buyer can still afford to move they may look at other products and contact other Lenders it may not be the end of the purchase completely.


A Survey is often conducted at the start of a purchase, sometimes this can reveal minor or major issues which a buyer had not foreseen and these may be too costly to take on or too burdensome and this may cause a buyer to withdraw. Whilst this can be problematic, as a Seller you can ask for more details in respect of the issues and discuss these with the buyer through the Estate Agent, you may agree to split the cost of the works or undertake certain repairs yourself in order to keep the sale together – if you do any agreement should be recorded by your Solicitor and the paperwork retained.

In terms of major work identified by a Surveyor this can lead to renegotiations in price, again you can speak to the buyer (via the Estate Agents) to obtain more details of the cause of concern, you may wish to look into the problem yourself or get a second opinion which may help with any subsequent price changes and to find a solution which suits you and the buyer. (possible duplication)

Change of mind

Sometimes a buyer or seller can just change their mind and unfortunately this is one of the reasons which is difficult to overcome. However, if this happens do not despair any work carried out can be used again for a new sale as much as possible, if Searches were carried out these can be sold to a new buyer which will help speed things up for the new buyer.

From the above you can see that there are many hurdles which can appear at the early stages of the sale, as it progresses other problems may appear such as defects in title, delays with Searches etc. as with any “hiccup” this can cause slow progress with a sale and if there are various parties in the chain any delay in one link will likely to have a knock on effect with the remaining links in the chain. This slow progress can cause frustration which may lead to one party deciding to no longer proceed, this will cause frustration to not just you as a Seller but for the others in the chain. One way to reduce the risk of this happening is good communication, when buyers, sellers, Solicitors and Estate Agents have a good dialogue with one another it means that everyone is kept up to date and knows what is going on, as soon as an issue arises this should be discussed promptly and a remedy sought as soon as possible, when everyone knows what is going it reduces anxiety and frustration.

What stage can a buyer or seller pull out?

Under English law, a buyer or seller can pull out at any point up to exchange of contracts, without having to pay any damages to the other party.

If a buyer or seller pulls out after exchange of contracts, the party in breach will be liable for damages and will forfeit the deposit provided on exchange.

Is there anything you can do to prevent this from happening?

Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done. The contract is not legally binding or enforceable until exchange. If you are worried about a buyer or seller potentially pulling out, we would advise talking to the estate agents, who are there to help and can liaise directly with both the buyer and the seller.

Alternatively, speak to your conveyancer to see if they are aware of any issues which they may be able to resolve. Sometimes a party may make a false threat to pull out, as they are frustrated with the process. They will not always carry through with this, particularly as it will mean that they will have to restart the whole process again with a new buyer or seller.

If the buyer has pulled out, always try to find out why. Often, the issue can be overcome, for example lowering the sale price to reflect an issue discovered in the survey, or helping to get a new valuation to support a mortgage application.

If the buyer is trying to renegotiate the price, it is worth establishing whether their revised offer is in line with recent changes to the overall market. This can happen when house prices start to decline due to rising mortgage rates or an overall economic downturn. In some cases, it may be worth accepting a lower offer, to keep the sale going through, or even requesting a similar reduction on properties higher in the chain.

Do solicitors charge if a house sale falls through?

Unless you have a “no-sale no-charge” agreement, then yes, a solicitor will not unreasonably charge for the time they have spent so far. Whilst some do offer “no-sale no-charge” agreements, these can often work out more expensive overall, as a premium may be charged for them

What fees need to be paid if a sale falls through?

We understand that it is disappointing and frustrating when a sale falls through. Both the buyer and seller are likely to be charged for the work done on their behalf, to the point at which the sale was aborted. Additionally, any disbursements paid, such as searches and document fees up to that point will also need to be paid.

The later in the process the sale falls through, the more time your conveyancer will have spent on the case, and the more disbursements they will have paid. 

How can Goughs help?

With a team of experienced conveyancers, you can be assured of the best possible service. Providing buyers and sellers with a dedicated property lawyer, Goughs have successfully completed over 1,500 conveyancing transactions in the past year.

If you’re looking for an experienced property solicitor near you, someone who knows Wiltshire’s property market inside-out, someone that will take you through the process step-by-step and complete your purchase as quickly as possible, please get in touch.

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Author Bio

Sophie Laird

I deal with all aspects of residential property, remortgaging, tenancies, transfer of equity, help to buy, and military help to buy schemes.

I pride myself on being friendly and approachable; offering my clients a professional service, and ensuring that their matters are dealt with as swiftly and smoothly as possible.

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