One foot out of the door...

You've made the decision to move, you've found a new house that's perfect, and your present home is up for sale - but you can't find a buyer. When houses get stuck, their owners get desperate
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The Independent Online

Prices may have fallen back in some areas, but according to a report published this week, good-quality, welllocated properties are selling as quickly as they were four months ago. Crucial to keeping up the June average of nine weeks, Bradford & Bingley estate agents single out realistic pricing.

Prices may have fallen back in some areas, but according to a report published this week, good-quality, welllocated properties are selling as quickly as they were four months ago. Crucial to keeping up the June average of nine weeks, Bradford & Bingley estate agents single out realistic pricing.

The report finds that the percentage of final selling price against the original asking price has dropped slightly, indicating that sellers cannot be as ambitious as they were at the beginning of the year when the market was at a peak. Then they preferred to find a property before putting their own on the market, whereas now there is evidence they are reverting to the more traditional route of doing both at the same time.

Some of this may come as a surprise to London and the home counties, where the difference in the speed of sale between mid-summer and the autumn is noticeably slower. Ian Davies, Bradford & Bingley regional business director for the South-east, says: "The properties that sell well are sensibly priced. The overheated market meant that sellers could fly a kite and expect the market to move up to float it. We now have a far more balanced picture. Of course, the report is based on those properties that have sold, and sellers who have seen little interest after nine weeks should revise their strategy."

The most radical change has been in the ratio of buyers to sellers, which has dropped from 13 to eight buyers for every seller. In contrast, Scotland has 24 buyers for every property priced between £200,000 and £250,000.

But in London and the South-east, where price rises came to a sudden halt, it is proving difficult to adjust. People were used to a shortage of supply with sellers often receiving offers in weeks or even days. Most logjams were caused when they couldn't find something suitable to buy.

Now those offers are less forthcoming as more properties come on to the market and buyers can afford to be choosy. They are also quick to spot anything that is overpriced, agents find. This adjustment has left more than a few people adrift. Many of those who would not have expected to encounter problems are stuck in chains, forcing them to rethink prices or pull out altogether. One such property is a detached, five-bedroom Sixties-built house in Dulwich village, an area popular with families. It has been on the market since February.

Its owners, John and June Izbicki, had their house valued 11 months ago and were advised to find somewhere first because they could expect to sell within a couple of weeks. They found their ideal place in Kent and knew they had to move fast. "We put our house on the market and sat back and waited. It was three months before we got an offer. We felt happy that the £595,000 we were asking was fair because we had rejected the suggestion that it should be £615,000," says Mr Izbicki.

"We then got an offer at the asking price, but the buyers, who were also selling a house in London, had not received an offer after 16 weeks and withdrew it from the market. We had lost our original house. Our mistake was not to have put our house on the market at the beginning and then we were caught by the increase in stamp duty around Easter," he says.

Now they have found a farmhouse which has been reduced for a quick sale, and the pressure is on again: "We have reduced our price by £20,000 and hope that it will get things moving." If not, the Izbickis will remove it from the market and wait for a busier period. They also believe their house, which is in an area of older properties, needs to be talked-up to buyers who would not be familiar with its open-plan design and large garden.

Demands on estate agents in the current market are new to many of them, says Simon Agace, chairman of the Winkworth group of estate agencies. "Sales can no longer be taken for granted. It is important they get the strategy right to get enough people through the door, as well as pitching the price correctly. However, agents are always forced to outprice previous sales if they are not to be accused of underselling. But when a property does go on at 10 per cent more than it should, it can be difficult to bring it down to a realistic level because people make plans on those figures."

A changing market is when a seller most needs advice from an agent, says a solicitor who has been trying to sell her house in Essex for six months. She has had the additional stress of a divorce and felt let down by her agents. "We dropped our price by 10 per cent, and after the buyers kept us hanging around for five months they went for something else. The estate agents knew they had a reputation for being time-wasters, yet never warned us. I could have wept over the details which I had to rewrite."

She has appointed a third estate agent and for the first time is happy with the advice. "They increased the price because they said it was undervalued and came up with buyers within days. They suggested giving them a four-week option, because we did not want to be left high and dry again."

At FPDSavills research department, Richard Donnell says that if buyers are purchasing a property in the top levels of the market where demand is still strong enough not to require a price reduction, those further down the scale have to consider either downgrading their expectations or arranging more finance. He sees evidence that rather than do either, many people are taking their properties off the market for a few months.

Sometimes frustrated sellers feel they cannot win. Mr Izbicki recalls that a young German looked around his house specifically because he did not want anything old. "He rejected it because it was too cheap. But who can blame him? His father had given him a million pounds to spend."

Harvey & Wheeler (020-8693 4321) and Hamptons International (020-7738 7622) are selling the Dulwich house