How to lock out the gazumpers

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HOUSE BUYERS at last have some protection against 'gazumping' following an important legal decision last month, but they will probably have to demand the new safeguard from sellers. Estate agents are unlikely to volunteer information about it.

Buyers who have negotiated a deal and want to protect their position should insist on a written 'lock-out agreement' - one that gives you a clear run at buying the property for a specified period of time.

Tim Pitt from Suffolk successfully sued for damages when his seller broke the terms of a lock-out agreement and sold to a higher bidder. But if you walk into any estate agent and make an offer to buy a property, it is highly unlikely the agent will provide any information about lock-out agreements. Agents act for the seller, and many sellers are only too happy to gazump to their heart's content. They do not care who the property is sold to, as long as they get the highest price.

Trevor Kent of the National Association of Estate Agents said: 'We are not saying to purchasers that they ought to negotiate a lock-out agreement. But if a purchaser holds a gun to the seller's head and says, 'if you do not give me a clear three weeks, I will not consider the property,' a compromise would be agreement that no other offers would be considered, but that the seller reserves the right to show other people round during the period.'

It would be up to the agent to convince the seller of the merits of such an agreement. John Samson, property partner for Nabarro Nathanson, the solicitors, explained: 'The advantage to a seller of a properly drawn agreement is that it can impose a requirement on the purchaser to make rapid progress with the transaction.'

Lock-out agreements are good news for buyers. They do give some protection against gazumping and that is better than nothing. But for the time being the onus will be on purchasers to tell the seller and estate agent that they want an agreement.

Mr Samson has drafted a simple form for a lock-out agreement, available in minimum lots of 20 at pounds 5 each, but he is offering free copies to the first five readers who write to: The Publications Department (I), Nabarro Nathanson, 50 Stratton Street, London W1X 5FL.

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