My seller has pulled out of the sale. Is there anything I can do?

Q: I’ve bought a property but the seller has just decided to pull out of the sale, what are my rights in this situation?

A: In England, sellers and buyers are both within their rights to pull out of a purchase at any time before exchange of contracts, usually with no recourse. This can be a good thing if a fundamental issue arises within the due diligence stage which cannot be resolved or the price appropriately adjusted.

However, this flexibility is also a fundamental flaw in our purchase process as it allows buyers and sellers to change their mind for no good reason which can be expensive, not to mention very emotional for the other party.

This situation happened to a client of ours this week. We were under offer on a property and were less than a week away from exchanging contracts, which is the point at which the purchase becomes legally binding. We had agreed which items of furniture he would include within the sale (including him relaying which pieces of furniture had sentimental value and the story behind them), the building survey had been carried out, we had agreed the completion timescale and the legal points were being finalised. The seller then informed his solicitor that he wanted to withdraw from the sale.

In our case the seller didn’t tell the estate agent, he communicated it solely through his solicitor without any explanation, so it was news to everyone, including the estate agent who was representing him.

The estate agent did get to the bottom of it and our seller had decided to continue renting the property out, rather than to sell it. We held talks with the estate agent in person and requested that all of our client’s costs were covered by the seller. The seller is not usually obliged in any way to cover the buyer’s costs, but it is worth asking the question as some sellers do feel bad about the situation and will want to make up for it.

Whilst it’s an incredibly frustrating situation, in the more than ten years I have been advising clients where a purchase has fallen through, we have always found another property which has been just as good or in some cases suited our client even better. So whilst you might be angry or upset or despairing about your property search, remember that there are other properties out there and will come up. So keep focused and remain positive.

If you have a question you’d like Jo to answer please email or tweet her @joeccles.