Is gazumping a strategy sellers should refrain from using during the coronavirus pandemic, or in fact embrace?

Gazumping - it’s never really something you plan beforehand, it's more one of those last-minute tactics that spring to mind just as you’re about to seal the deal. Call it your property sale’s final caveat.

Although when you look at the figures, it’s little surprise that the spurt of interest brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has caused gazumping to make a return; property prices in the UK rose a six-year high in 2020, spiking up 7.3% on average according to Nationwide (Yikes)! In the London, the market changed too.

For the first time in five years, gazumping made a return to the London market due to both an influx of buyers from the UK and overseas. An influx causing a good amount of sales to be fast-tracked to best and final offers. The case has been much the same over the rest of the UK, as rising demand outstrips supply, and by quite a margin.

According to research by Hamptons International, the surge has been so sharp that 2020 saw the return of flipping, with one in forty houses been bought and sold within a year – the highest it’s been in 12 years! However, come the later part of 2021 and industry experts are predicting a slightly different story.

Slower growth and maybe even a stagnant market for 2021. So, the question is, will gazumping remain a nifty tactic for sellers in 2021 or pretty soon become a thing of the past?

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What is gazumping and what does it mean?

As a seller, to gazump your buyer is actually pretty simple – all you need to do is accept a higher offer on your property than the one that you previously accepted. But surely that’s just been outbid, right? Wrong.

Gazumping a buyer is when you accept an offer from another party, despite your current offer been agreed verbally. Basically going back on your word, as in the UK no property sale is classed as legally binding until contracts have been exchanged. And it’s this which is why the majority of sellers who can gazump choose not to, despite it being a way for them to achieve a better price or a faster sale.

As you’d imagine, there’s a strong argument that gazumping is unethical, because in the majority of cases, it also causes property chains to break. So you could argue that by gazumping your buyer you’re in fact gazumping the entire chain, as they’re all going to have to wait for your now ex-buyer to find a new onward purchase.

Exactly why we’d advise that when making any onward purchase you consider taking out a form of gazumping insurance, especially if the purchase will tie you into a chain. Being gazumped often means that your survey costs and any house repayments arrangement fees will be lost. However, with that being said, gazumping can be a useful tool to speed up your own property sale.

If you’ve accepted an offer from a buyer who’s now struggling to get finance or slack at keeping in contact with their solicitors, gazumping them can be a great way to cut the hassle and speed up your sale. Just don’t tell them we told you so.

FYI: If gazumping is a real concern to any buyer they can request for their solicitor to draw up what’s called an anti-gazumping agreement, which will make the verbal agreement between you both legally binding. While this can be expensive and also prevent you from gazumping them later on in the sale, it’s important that you don’t see it as a negative sign. Paying a solicitor to draw up an agreement like this is a sure sign that they’re a committed buyer! Congrats!

Hold on, is gazumping illegal?

Nope. Gazumping is indeed legal in most parts of the UK, despite a large amount of us believing otherwise. In fact, there’s been several suggestions from the government over the years that the laws around gazumping, and its twin brother gazundering, will be changed. However as of today, no legal action has been taken.

In short, this means that even if you accept an offer on your property, it is still technically for sale until contracts have exchanged. So this beggars the question, where can you gazump a buyer?

Can you gazump in England?

Across England and Wales it is entirely legal for you as a seller to gazump your buyer. There are no laws that state otherwise as well as a wide range of gazumping insurance products out there for you to protect buyers who want to be covered (otherwise known as Home Buyer Protection Insurance). We found policies available for as little as £69.

IDEA: If you are in a situation where gazumping your buyer would do you a whole lot of favours, you don’t have to play the villain. If you’re looking for a slightly more ethical strategy, you could always (A) let them know in good time that you’re considering a gazump manoeuvre, and (B) cover their insurance, so the only thing they’re actually losing out on is your house. Food for thought.

Can you gazump in Scotland?

Scotland is where you do not want to gazump a buyer on your property, as it’s actually illegal. The main difference with the Scottish system is that unlike in England and Wales where gazumping is acceptable until exchange of contracts, in Scotland an offer accepted verbally is legally binding. Legislation means that being gazumped as well as gazundered over the Scottish border is pretty near impossible. Good to know if you’re thinking of moving there.

You can discover all the ins and outs of this Scottish legislation here.

FYI: In case you’re wondering, gazundering is, in essence, the opposite of gazumping. It’s when a buyer lowers their offer on the property they’ve agreed to buy. This may be because of a negative survey, financial issues or more personal reasons.

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How has the coronavirus pamdemic led to a rise in gazumping?

As gazumping typically happens in a seller’s market, it’s little surprise that cases have spiked during the COVID pandemic. High demand and a relatively low supply, fed by the uncertainty of the whole coronavirus situation, made 2020 the perfect gazumping ground. Don’t believe us? Here are three reasons why…

The Stamp Duty holiday

The most obvious answer to this question would of course be the Stamp Duty Holiday, which should be coming to an end on March 31st. The scheme allowed buyers to save up to £15,000 on the purchase of a property – one of the main drivers behind the market’s recent rush of activity. A rush that has created fierce competition and led to a spout of gazundering as sellers do all they can to increase their profit margins. Be that gazumping a buyer because of a higher offer, or simply for another buyer’s stronger, more proceedable position. For instance, a cash buyer (like us) or someone with no dependant sale.

Although you could argue that because of the deadline set for the Stamp Duty Holiday that a buyer’s position has in fact been more of a focus than their offer. Put it this way, if a buyer was to offer your asking price and then a cash buyer came along and offered you £10,000 below your asking price, which one would you take? Baring in mind that this cash buyer could complete in a matter of weeks and by being able to do so, save £15,000 in Stamp Duty discount! A valid reason to gazump?

A change of habit

With the shift in lifestyle brought about by COVID-19, life in the country is looking all the more attractive. So as you can imagine, hordes of city slickers have been making a beeline for rural areas since the first lockdown, with one main priority on their mind – space.

A quality that in rural parts of the UK typically comes at less of a premium than in the heart of a city, or least it did. Come the end of the first lockdown and demand in rural areas spiked, as ‘city folk’ sought in mass to relocate. A change in activity that’s caused a significant shift across many local markets, and seen a good amount thrive during the pandemic. The Welsh market in particular, where many agents were expected to hit their sales records, all despite a slump in demand during 2019. A spurt of interest, which as you’d expect, led to a spout of gazumping, as sellers eagerly tried to secure themselves the best deal.

Will this trend of rural gazumping continue throughout 2021, and could it affect land values? Quite possibly, although it’s not as clear cut as a simple “yes” or “no”. Factors like: the success of the COVID vaccine and whether working remotely remains a long-term option for businesses, will ultimately be the last piece in the puzzle. However, if relocating to more rural areas does become a long-term movement and not a short-term trend, the likelihood of being gazumped on a rural property could well increase (gulp)!

Financial flexibility

Money, it’s the whole reason behind gazumping. Without it, a buyer couldn’t up their offer, which is exactly what you need as a seller to go for the gazump. So how come then, at a time when unemployment reached a record high and many industries are on their way out, that gazumping saw such a spike? If you ask us, there’s two very good reasons…

  • The growth of new industries - While there are some industries which have been hit hard by COVID (retail, leisure etc.), it’s important not to forget that for other industries the pandemic has actually worked in their favour. So for instance, the pharmaceuticals industry has boomed because of the need for a vaccine. Demands across manufacturing have risen due to the need for PPE and hospital equipment. And even logistics and delivery businesses have seen a spike in profits thanks to the sudden popularity of e-commerce. All of which means that the buyer with the finances to propose a gazump, is still very much present in the market.

  • More mortgage approvals -Despite the sorry statistics surrounding unemployment, house repayments approval rates have also risen. According to The Bank of England, in November of last year, more than 105,000 house repayments were approved – that’s the highest since 2007! Why has this happened during a global pandemic when risk is at an all-time high? We’d say there are at least two reasons behind this.

    The most obvious is that more people are now motivated to move and have thus sought a mortgage. The second is that downsizing is rising in popularity, but by that, we don’t mean the size of your house, more the size of your house repayments loan. Have a good portion of the equity in your house repayments and you’re a far less risky prospect to a lender - i.e. more likely to secure the finance that could be used to gazump.

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Can you still gazump buyers?

Gazumping in 2021 could still make logical sense.

While it's not the most ethical of negotiation strategies if your current buyer isn't pulling their weight or you receive a substantially higher offer last minute, performing a gazump could work rather well. Although it's important to remember what gazumping relies on.

Demand. If there's no demand or demand is low, then it's highly unlikely that you'll ever need to gazump. So if you ask us, the question is not 'can you still gazump buyers', but more 'what will demand for property be like and will gazumping still make sense?'.

So here goes...

As it stands, the UK property market appears to be in pretty good shape. house repayments lending is on the rise and house prices are continuing on the same upward trajectory, despite the disturbance caused by coronavirus. So you'd imagine that demand would be similar, well maybe. Although there is evidence to suggest that this year, prices may not be quite as buoyant.

You see with it, 2021 brings a lot of change. The most fundamental of which, is expected to be the end of the Stamp Duty Holiday; a recent study by The Guild of Property Professionals hints that this could be the case.

The guild asked over 1000 buyers what they’d do if they weren’t able to complete on their purchase in time to qualify for the Stamp Duty discount - almost a third of buyers said they’d pull out. The start of a spout of gazundering, perhaps? But don’t be fooled into thinking that the end of the SDH is the only threat to demand.

There’s mortgage rates to consider too. If prices slump and buyers are plunged into negative equity, then it’s likely lenders will become more selective when granting house repayments. Less available finance translates into less buyers being able to fund a purchase, which could trigger a fall the numbers of sellers gazumping to get a better price. But it's not just property-related issues that affect demand - it's wider ones too.

Factor in issues like the success of the coronavirus vaccine as well as Brexit, and the property market could be in for a bumpy ride; Halifax predict that next year property prices will fall between 2-5%! So, looking forward in the coming months, and it we’d say that there’s likely to be less use of gazumping throughout 2021. If anything, we’d say gazundering could become more of an issue, as buyers reduce their bids in attempt to claw back Stamp Duty discount they haven’t managed to obtain.

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Gazumping and gazundering - what to do if it all goes wrong

While gazumping, or its twin brother gazundering, can be useful tools if implemented wisely, it’s important to recognise that they do come with some risks. Gazundering in particular! So you understand what we’re getting at, jump into the example scenarios below…

Potential risks of gazumping

  • You gazump your current buyer in the heat of the moment because a new buyer has offered you more money. What you forget to realise is the situation of this new buyer means that they can’t actually complete as fast as you’d like. Ironically, this could be because of financial issues, but it also could be because they’re yet to sell their property, in a long problematic chain or just general slackness – either way, you’ve replaced what was a dedicated buyer with a buyer who’s more of a headache than a helpful boost. After 6 months of waiting, the chain breaks down and your sale falls through.

  • You gazump your current buyer yet again because of a higher offer made by another party, only this time your new buyer finds a reason to gazunder you. Maybe they found an issue with your property through a survey or because the sale will no longer be complete before the end of the Stamp Duty Holiday, can’t afford to pay the price they originally stated. You’re faced with two choices - either take the hit, or let the sale fall through.

Notice a common trend starting to emerge? Thankfully though, if you haven’t quite mastered how to gazump successfully and got yourself into a sticky situation, there is a way out.

You see, as a national property buyer, we’ll take your house off your hands for CASH, whatever its location or condition. And that’s not even the best part!

We can complete on a purchase in less than 7-days, so if you’re in need of urgent chain repair, we can step in and be that all-important missing link. Team TPBC have well in excess of 50 years’ experience – the experience required to get you and your sale, back on the straight and narrow in the case a tactical gazump goes wrong, or you're gazundered without warning.

Joe McCorry

Joe is our SEO Specialist that helps produce and develop content. He enjoys finding out about all the new property trends and learning about the property market.