When a property has been marked with the SSTC meaning (sold subject to contract), this confirms it has an offer on it that has been accepted. However, the property will still need to go through the legal process via conveyancing solicitors.
Ultimately, no money will have changed hands. The transaction is still to become legally binding, but there is an agreement in place to sell the property.
The sale will only be legally binding following the exchange of contracts, and until then it is vulnerable to being disrupted.
This makes this stage of the sale process one of the most nail biting for both buyer and seller.
Sometimes, estate agents will use terms like sale agreed or the acronym SSTC instead of sold subject to contract, but they all mean the same thing.
SSTC meaning: The Buyer’s guide
When you are buying a property the stage in between your offer being accepted and the exchange of contracts can be hectic.
You will need to instruct your conveyancer to undertake searches to ensure that the property you are looking at buying is a good purchase.
While these searches can take a long time they are important. You may find something structurally or legally wrong with the property. And this could lead to renegotiation.
When buying you should try and get your desired property marked SSTC as soon as possible. This makes it less visible on property listing websites and puts off the majority of other buyers.
On top of this, you should push your conveyancer to ensure everything, including your searches, is done as quickly as possible. This is because prior to exchanging contracts you are still at risk of being ‘gazumped’.
The danger of being gazumped
Other buyers can still make offers on a property which is sold SSTC because the sale is yet to be legally binding. When another party makes a higher offer on a property which is sold subject to contract it is called gazumping.
This is considered rude and shady but is absolutely legal. Indeed, the seller’s estate agent is obligated to let them know about any better offers which come there way. This is to ensure there is fair play in the marketing of the property by the estate agent.
If you are gazumped when you are buying a property, you have little option except to counter gazump and try to outbid the new buyer.
While gazumping is considered unfair, asking estate agents to keep an eye on properties you like which are sold subject to contract can pay off. This is because many house sales fall through, and when they do you will be at the front of the list.
As a buyer, you are perfectly entitled to ask the seller to take a property off the market entirely, rather than subject it to the SSTC meaning.
SSTC meaning: The Seller’s guide
When you agree to sell a property to a buyer, you should first check their proof of funds.
Only when this comes up clean should you request your property be marked SSTC. This is because a buyer who cannot afford your property is essentially not really a buyer.
Once your property is marked as SSTC it will effectively be removed from the market. While the listing will still be visible it will be dramatically less prominent.
After you have notified your estate agent that you wish to mark your property as sold subject to contract you should ask your conveyancer to begin preparing to transfer the property.
Your conveyancer will then write up a draft contract and send it to the buyer, who should be ordering their searches at this point. If any searches bring back negative results you may have to negotiate with the buyer, and consider buying an indemnity insurance policy.
Once all of the searches are complete as well as any negotiations, and the buyer’s enquiries are satisfied, it is time to exchange contracts.
This is usually done on a recorded telephone call by both parties legal representatives and is the point where the property transaction becomes legally binding.
While rude, prior to this point it is entirely legal to accept a higher offer, although this is ill advised unless you are certain the new offer is a solid one. If you reject the first offer you will be sent right back to the start of the process at a disadvantage if the new offer falls through.
Can a property sale fall through after it is sold subject to contract
In addition to the risk of buyers being gazumped there are also serious risks for the seller.
For example, if the searches report something negative, a buyer might well back out entirely rather than try and negotiate.
Finally, both buyers and sellers can suffer from property chain problems. If your buyer can’t find anyone to buy their previous house, they may not be able to fund the move, and longer chains can lead to even more potential problems.
In order to minimise the risks of a house sale falling through both buyer and seller should be entirely truthful and honest. When this happens, it minimises the chance of one party being surprised by something and pulling out further down the line.
Why should you bother stating a property is SSTC then?
While the fact buyers can both be gazumped and can back out makes the SSSTC meaning seem kind of pointless to both parties it really is not.
Gazumping, while extremely annoying, is quite uncommon and this stage of the conveyancing process works to protect both parties. It keeps things semi closed, while allowing the buyer and seller room to negotiate until they are satisfied with all aspects of the sale without tying them down.
How long does a property sale take once the property is SSTC?
A property typically keeps the SSTC meaning up until the point of exchange of contracts.
This duration is obviously affected by the speed at which the buyer’s conveyancer completes their searches. It also depends on how fast the estate agents work, and how long it takes for a mortgage offer to be finalised.
While both the buyer and seller can help speed this process up by being proactive, and sending all the relevant paperwork to their conveyancers, chain issues can occur.
If a property is in a long chain, this will often lead to a sale taking longer, and it being marked as sold subject to contract for a longer period of time.
While chain free properties can often spend as little as six weeks SSTC, properties in a longer chain can often spend many months with the mark before the exchange of contracts finally goes ahead.
Read more: How long it really takes to sell a property
What does under offer mean?
Before a property is marked with the SSTC meaning, it is considered ‘under offer’.
While legally this means the same thing, and the property is still entirely the sellers, the difference is that when a property is under offer, the seller is yet to accept an offer.
This means that making an offer on a property which is under offer is generally not considered gazumping, and if you can close faster or offer more, you could well be the offer the seller chooses.
Can a property be marked SSTC in Scotland?
Conveyancing in Scotland works differently. One of those differences is that no property is ever considered sold subject to contract.
Instead, estate agents in Scotland describe a property for which an offer has been accepted as under offer. While this makes things confusing for cross border house buyers, in Scotland the term under offer essentially means the same thing SSTC does in England.
A property is considered sold subject contract when the seller accepts an offer made on it by a buyer.
This is not legally binding, and both parties can still pull out prior to the exchange of contracts.
In addition, other offers can still be made on the property, which can also potentially disrupt a sale. This is called gazumping and is considered rude but is perfectly legal.
None the less, marking a property as SSTC offers a margin of security to both the buyer and seller, and can be viewed as something of a gentleman’s agreement to continue with the property transaction.
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