Unsold homes: 7 reasons why no one is buying your house


Updated on 16 April 2019

Sometimes homes just won't sell – but why? These seven reasons (or at least one of them) could explain everything.

Homes that just won't sell

Why won’t some houses sell, even though they’ve been on the market for years?

Selling your home at the moment is a frustrating business. Instead of a rush of buyers waiting to snap up the property when it hits the market, sellers are waiting weeks, or even months, for a buyer to come through the door.

Agents will be keen to reassure them that “It’s not you, it’s them”, and that there’s just a shortage of buyers at the moment. But what if that’s not the problem? What if the real problem is the home itself?

There are seven things that make it difficult to sell a property. In a sluggish market, if your home falls short on one of these fronts, you can spend years trying to sell.

Some properties have been on the market for years without finding a buyer. So it’s important to know if your property is blighted, and if so, what you can do about it.

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The price is too high

This is by far the most common problem, and is partly a function of how the estate agency market works.

Agents are often competing to sell the property, and may pitch an ambitious price in order to get the instruction.

Martin McCreath, regional managing director for Your Move estate agents adds: “A property has its best chance of selling within the first six weeks of it being on the market. 

If the price is wrong from the outset, the vendor usually loses out and ends up reducing the price over time and selling at a lower price than had the property been priced correctly from the beginning.”

The property is in a terrible state

A study by web-blinds.com asked people to name their biggest turn offs when house-hunting, and the top answer was poor hygiene.

Cluttered and messy rooms also made the list at number six, and untidy or overgrown gardens at number seven.

You would be forgiven for thinking that buyers can see past the mess, but the vast majority of them can’t, and a property that’s cluttered and dirty will struggle to sell.

Unsold homes: 7 reasons why you no one is buying your house

There’s a physical problem with the property itself

A study by price comparison site GoCompare recently found that 71% of people wouldn’t buy a property that looked like it had a damp problem, while 65% would be put off by rotten windows, and other signs that the property was in a poor state of repair.

If there are serious structural problems, such as subsidence, insurers will not cover the building and mortgage companies will not lend against it.

If people cannot get a mortgage on the house then a huge number will simply not be able to buy it.

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Tenants in the property are making life difficult

Property investors understandably want to start a sales process when tenants are still in place. If you have tidy and considerate tenants, then this can work well. However, often they can make the process harder.

In many cases they’re not prepared to keep the property clean and tidy, which will put some buyers off.  

Elliot Castle, founder of property site WeBuyAnyHome.com, says that tenants make access difficult too, because they have no vested interest in being flexible. 

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It might be you

Property listing site Rightmove held a competition a few years ago and asked people to send in their bizarre house-buying tales. It revealed plenty of sellers who scuppered their own sales.

One wrote: “About five years ago when we were looking for a new house, we found a gorgeous property and arranged with the current owners to go and look around.

When we arrived we were welcomed inside, but instead of being shown around the property we were shown the lady of the house’s doll collection (which was vast and covered every wall and surface of the downstairs).

"We had to be introduced to several of the dolls by name and talk about many of them individually.”

Unsurprisingly they weren’t tempted to buy the property.

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The neighbours are a nightmare

Nobody wants to move into a property with problem neighbours.

A study by home insurers Privilege found that the worst neighbour problems related to noise, unfriendliness and not taking care of their property. It concluded that living next to an inconsiderate neighbour wipes £37,000 off the value of the average home.

In some cases, the neighbours can scare off buyers altogether.

Read: what you need to declare when selling your home

Unsold homes: 7 reasons why you no one is buying your house

It’s in the wrong place

There are all sorts of issues with location that can affect a sale. McCreath says recent reports about local flooding, planning applications for buildings nearby and HS2 can all put buyers off.

However, nothing is impossible to shift (provided you're realistic on price).

Castle says that WeBuyAnyHome.com has bought properties blighted by all sorts of things – from one close to a mine shaft to one backing onto a sewage works. 

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What can you do?

In some cases, once you know what’s standing in the way of a sale, it’s relatively straightforward to put it right.

If the property is overpriced, often a price cut will do the trick.

If dirt or clutter is the issue, it’s worth investing in having it professionally cleaned, and decluttered. As a rough rule of thumb, most houses do best when they are shown with between a third and two-thirds of their original contents.

In the case of messy tenants, Chris Mullins, sales manager at estate agents Hamptons says it may make sense to give your tenants notice before a sale. He explains:

“As counter-intuitive as it sounds from a financial perspective, it can sometimes make more sense to wait for the tenants to move out and accept a few months’ void period, assuming a seller can afford to do so.

This gives the agent flexible access and leeway with presentation and often a sale can be agreed more quickly as a result.

“A potential difference of £5,000 or £10,000 in the sale price means that appropriately advising a seller to employ this tactic can often make a considerable difference to the bank balance in the long run.”

If you suspect it might be you that’s putting people off, by far the easiest solution is to leave it to the agents to do the viewings, so that any personal issues don’t arise.

If you have an unusual hobby or collection, a good agent should also suggest you pack it away out of sight while the property is up for sale, so buyers can see beyond the dolls or the taxidermy.

When neighbours are the issue, it’s worth talking to them.

They may be struggling with the upkeep of their property, and would appreciate an offer of help.

They may be unaware of the impact of their behaviour. It’s always worth a polite and calm conversation to see if you can cure the problem before you do anything else.

Do the right amount of work

Not all solutions are straightforward, but some are worth the work.

When it comes to decorative issues, the general advice is to put things right, so you don’t put buyers off.

McCreath recommends “addressing any maintenance issues before putting the property on the market – even if it means some redecoration or hiring someone to do more structural repairs for you – like mending roof tiles or brickwork”.

If you can treat mould, replace a rotten window frame, add a coat of paint, and solve the problem, then you will dramatically increase the number of potential buyers.

However, when you’re facing a serious structural issue, then doing cosmetic work is not always the right answer – especially if you cannot completely solve the underlying problem.

The people who want to buy your house will be those who think they can buy it for a song, use their expertise to repair and rectify any issues, and then sell it or rent it for a handsome profit.

The more money you spend, the more you will need to recoup with a higher asking price, and the less profit they will be able to make.

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When you can’t solve the issue

Unfortunately, not every problem can be addressed: not every neighbour is open to compromise, and there’s very little you can do about a sewage works in the back garden. Selling the property then becomes a matter of promoting the positives and pricing for a sale.

Mullins says: “Off-market previews are a fantastic way of getting some immediate feedback from buyers; we can test the market at a certain price or gauge the appetite for properties which require substantial amounts of work.

Using the preview period to test the market is invaluable and can help us enormously with regards to our recommended guide price for the property when it goes ‘live’. Castle says the key is finding a price at which a buyer decides they are willing to compromise in order to get a bargain.

He adds: “Because we take a commercial view of things, we know we will be able to find a buyer if the price is right.”

Even in the current market, there’s a buyer out there for every home. Properties have been sold that sit over a noisy nightclub, or have been the scene of a ghastly crime.

One even found a buyer when it was in the process of falling off a cliff. The key is to understand what you can change, do what you can to make the property attractive, and then set a realistic price.

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