‘Can I play on my seller’s fear of missing the stamp duty holiday to lower my offer?’

I’ve had an offer accepted on a house, but I’m concerned that in my post-lockdown desperation to find somewhere bigger and with a garden I may have overpaid. I’ll be able to manage the mortgage payments, but it’ll be a stretch and I’m wondering whether I still have some bargaining power. […]

I’ve had an offer accepted on a house, but I’m concerned that in my post-lockdown desperation to find somewhere bigger and with a garden I may have overpaid. I’ll be able to manage the mortgage payments, but it’ll be a stretch and I’m wondering whether I still have some bargaining power.

The seller is absolutely desperate to get the deal done before the stamp duty holiday ends in April so she can make a tax saving on her new property. We’re both experiencing a few delays getting our mortgages approved and local authority searches done, and every time things are pushed back my solicitor gets a frenzied call from hers, trying to move things along. 

I imagine if the deal collapsed now she’d really struggle to find another buyer and get the sale completed before the end of March. If I delayed by another week and then lowered my offer by £8,000 or so, I’m sure she’d accept. Should I do it? I’m pretty certain that’d still be less than the tax saving she’d miss out on by not completing in time, so we’d both still come out of this better off. 

SB, Hampshire 

Lowering your offer at the last minute, known as “gazundering”, is not banned in Britain but it is poor behaviour. Many readers would argue you are stringing this poor woman on, playing on her fears of an unexpected tax bill.

You know nothing of her situation – perhaps her finances have been hurt by the pandemic and she is having to downsize, with the tax saving making a huge difference to her. 

You also fail to consider the possibility that she might refuse your lower offer. By causing the deal to collapse, you would deprive not only her and yourself of this tax relief but all the others connected within your chain. That could include families stuck in homes that have become too small or first-time buyers desperate to escape their rental accommodation and get on the ladder. 

After all, you chose to stretch yourself to the limit by making your offer. If it was too much for you to afford, you should have realised that at the time. 

Yet if you consider the deal purely as a business transaction, it could be argued you are doing nothing wrong. Prices are determined by how much someone is willing to pay and what the other person is prepared to sell for. If, as you say, the seller is desperate to complete before March 31 and the tax cut is worth more to her than the £8,000 you want to shave off your offer, then that is just simple economics. 

Others would add that you have been a victim of circumstance. Few experts expected house prices to rise as quickly as they have since the first lockdown was eased. It has quickly become a seller’s market and many other buyers are finding themselves, like yourself, having to pay more than they’d like because competition is so fierce. 

Why not speak to her directly and explain that your offer may have been a bit high? She may not give you the full £8,000 discount, but she will be much more willing to negotiate that if you threaten to collapse the deal. 

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