House doctor: Can we say no to our fussy buyer without losing the sale?


Question: We're midway through our home sale but have run into trouble. The buyer is making a lot of surprise demands via his solicitor – can the fridge and freezer be left behind; can the carpets be professionally cleaned; can we make sure the property is insured before completion? I'm terrified of losing the sale, it's taken an age to find a buyer. Can I say no without scaring him off? Carolyn Connor, Loughborough

Answer: There are two sides to every home sale but – in some cases – one likes to push the relationship just that little bit harder than the other.

As a rule of thumb, sellers call the shots when the property market is hot – and buyers when it's not. This simple truth is down to the laws of economics, says Melanie Bien at broker Savills Private Finance; in a booming market, the vendor can exert influence on the price as well as any extras on top. "Why? Because demand suggests somebody else will be prepared to pay if you don't," she says.

The housing market today might best be described as tepid, leaving buyers with a definite stronger hand. Add this, in your case, to a long agonising wait for a buyer, and it's quite clear who's in the driving seat.

James Brooks at property agent Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward says a compromise will work best in order to keep the buyer on board. "Although the new demands may be an irritant, don't lose sight of the overall aim: selling your property," he stresses.

"If, at the start of the process, you'd been asked if cleaning the carpets could be included, you probably wouldn't have objected at all. You could leave behind the white goods as a gesture but stress that you can't get the carpets cleaned in time."

However, a more bullish approach is advocated by David Hollingworth at broker London & Country. "The dynamic might be clear but that doesn't mean you should roll over – it's all part of the cut and thrust of the sale," he says. Stand your ground, he adds, and ask for cash in hand for the fridge and freezer. Propose splitting the cost of cleaning the carpets after you've exchanged: "That way, you won't end up spending lost money if it does fall through", he says.

However, both agree on rebuffing your buyer's request for you to cover the property. In almost all sales, it's the buyer's duty to insure the building from the point of exchange since – from this moment – they're held responsible for the property. Yet, if you don't want to kick up a fuss, the cost to you will probably only be a few pounds – plus the extra hassle. When you compare the financial advantage of selling your home against holding out over such a negligible cost, the answer is staring you in the face.

housedoctor@independent.co.uk

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