Once an offer is accepted on a house can someone else make an offer UK?

Once an offer is accepted on a house in the UK, the process towards completion begins, but it does not mean that the property is completely off the market. Unlike some other countries where the process is more rigid once an offer is accepted, in the UK, the system allows for a phenomenon known as “gazumping.” Gazumping occurs when another buyer makes a higher offer on the property, which the seller can choose to accept even after having accepted a previous offer. This can lead to complications and frustrations for all parties involved. Here is a detailed exploration of what happens after an offer is accepted, including the possibility of gazumping, the legal implications, and how buyers and sellers can protect themselves.

1. The Offer Acceptance Stage

a. Verbal Acceptance

  • When a seller verbally accepts an offer from a buyer, it signifies the beginning of the process but does not constitute a legally binding agreement. Both parties are essentially expressing their intent to proceed with the sale, but nothing is yet set in stone.

b. Confirmation by Estate Agent

  • The estate agent will typically confirm the acceptance of the offer in writing to both the buyer and the seller. This includes detailing the offer amount, any conditions attached to the offer, and the expected timelines.

2. The Legal Framework

a. No Binding Contract Until Exchange

  • In the UK, a property sale is not legally binding until contracts are exchanged. This means that up until the exchange of contracts, either party can withdraw from the sale without any legal penalties, though there may be financial and emotional costs involved.

b. Exchange of Contracts

  • The exchange of contracts typically happens several weeks after the offer is accepted. During this period, various checks and legal processes take place, including surveys, mortgage arrangements, and searches by solicitors.

3. Gazumping: The Risk and Reality

a. Definition and Occurrence

  • Gazumping occurs when a seller accepts a higher offer from another buyer after having already accepted an initial offer. This is more common in a rising market where property values are increasing quickly, leading to multiple interested parties.

b. Impacts on Buyers

  • For the initial buyer, gazumping can be particularly distressing. They may have already incurred costs for surveys, legal fees, and mortgage arrangements, only to find that they have lost the property to another buyer willing to pay more.

c. Seller’s Perspective

  • Sellers might be tempted by higher offers, especially if they are motivated by financial gain or pressured by market conditions. However, gazumping can damage their reputation and lead to legal and financial uncertainties.

4. Preventing Gazumping: Strategies for Buyers

a. Formalizing the Agreement

  • One way to protect against gazumping is to move quickly towards exchanging contracts. Buyers can request that the seller takes the property off the market as a condition of their offer. However, this is not always possible or agreed upon by the seller.

b. Lock-in Agreements

  • Lock-in agreements or exclusivity agreements are contracts where the seller agrees not to entertain other offers for a certain period. While not commonly used, they can provide some security for the buyer.

c. Communication and Relationship Building

  • Maintaining good communication with the seller and the estate agent can help. Building a positive relationship may make the seller less likely to entertain other offers.

d. Competitive Offers

  • Making a strong, competitive offer initially can reduce the temptation for the seller to accept a higher offer later. This may include offering a higher price, being flexible on the completion date, or showing readiness to proceed quickly.

5. Protecting Against Gazumping: Seller’s Considerations

a. Ethical Considerations

  • Sellers should consider the ethical implications of gazumping. It can cause significant distress and financial loss to the initial buyer. Acting with integrity can enhance their reputation and facilitate a smoother sale process.

b. Securing a Committed Buyer

  • By sticking with the initial offer and proceeding quickly to exchange contracts, sellers can ensure a more reliable and stable sale. A committed buyer who has already invested time and money is likely to follow through with the purchase.

6. Legal Remedies and Practical Advice

a. Engaging Solicitors Early

  • Both parties should engage solicitors early in the process to expedite the legal checks and move quickly towards exchanging contracts. This reduces the window of opportunity for gazumping to occur.

b. Understanding the Risks

  • Buyers should be aware of the risks and potential costs associated with gazumping. They should budget for potential losses and consider taking out insurance to cover costs like surveys and legal fees.

7. Case Studies and Real-Life Examples

a. Case Study 1: The Disappointed Buyer

  • Jane had her offer accepted on a charming cottage. She paid for a survey and her solicitor began the searches. Two weeks later, the seller accepted a higher offer, leaving Jane out of pocket and without a home. She had not asked for the property to be taken off the market, nor had she secured a lock-in agreement.

b. Case Study 2: The Ethical Seller

  • Tom received a higher offer after accepting an initial one. However, he decided to honor his first agreement. He communicated openly with both parties, proceeded quickly to exchange contracts with the initial buyer, and completed the sale smoothly. The initial buyer was appreciative, and Tom’s ethical stance enhanced his reputation.

8. Potential Policy Changes and Market Trends

a. Government Interventions

  • There have been discussions in the UK about making the property sale process more secure and less prone to gazumping. This includes potential changes to the timing of legal commitments or the introduction of reservation agreements.

b. Market Conditions

  • The likelihood of gazumping can vary with market conditions. In a buyer’s market, where there are more properties than buyers, gazumping is less common. Conversely, in a seller’s market with high demand, the risk increases.

9. Finalizing the Sale: Steps to Completion

a. Mortgage Finalization

  • After an offer is accepted, buyers need to finalize their mortgage arrangements. This includes securing a mortgage offer from their lender and satisfying any conditions.

b. Surveys and Valuations

  • Buyers typically commission surveys to assess the property’s condition. Mortgage lenders also conduct valuations to ensure the property is worth the loan amount.

c. Legal Checks and Searches

  • Solicitors carry out various searches, including local authority searches, environmental searches, and checking the title deeds to ensure there are no legal issues affecting the property.

d. Drafting Contracts

  • The seller’s solicitor drafts the contract for the sale, which includes details of the property, the agreed price, and any conditions of the sale. The buyer’s solicitor reviews and negotiates this contract.

10. Exchange and Completion

a. Exchange of Contracts

  • Once all checks are satisfactory, both parties sign the contract, and it is exchanged. At this point, the sale becomes legally binding. The buyer usually pays a deposit (typically 10% of the purchase price).

b. Completion

  • On the agreed completion date, the balance of the purchase price is transferred from the buyer to the seller. The seller hands over the keys, and the buyer takes possession of the property. The transfer of ownership is registered with the Land Registry.


Navigating the property buying process in the UK involves understanding the potential for gazumping and the steps that can be taken to mitigate this risk. From the point of offer acceptance to completion, there are various stages where both buyers and sellers can protect their interests and ensure a smooth transaction. While gazumping remains a legal practice, being aware of it and taking proactive measures can help buyers avoid the disappointment and financial loss associated with this occurrence. Sellers, on the other hand, should consider the ethical implications and long-term benefits of maintaining integrity throughout the sale process. By engaging solicitors early, understanding the market conditions, and making informed decisions, both parties can achieve a successful property transaction.

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