So, you’ve spotted a home that you really like, and it ticks all the boxes. But there’s just one problem. According to the agent (or the listing on Rightmove or Zoopla), the house is listed as “under offer”. 

Don’t worry, there’s still hope. Although it’s close to being off the market, it’s not sold yet. In fact, you can still make an offer on a property that’s “under offer” (or even “sold STC”). 

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what happens at this stage in the house buying process, and explain why you’re still in with a chance. 

What does it mean when a property is “under offer”? 

If a property is “under offer”, this usually means the seller has received an offer from a buyer and that they’re considering it. It could be that the offer is under the asking price or that the seller has received multiple offers from a few prospective buyers at once, and they’re taking their time deciding between interested parties. 

However, some agents will use “under offer” when an offer has been accepted, but before any contracts have been exchanged. This means that the property sale is not yet legally finalised. 

What’s the difference between “under offer” and “sold STC”? 

If you see a property labelled “sold subject to contract”, "sold STC" or "SSTC", this usually means the seller has received and accepted an offer from a buyer. 

At this stage in the house buying process, the potential buyer will be applying for their mortgage and carrying out surveys and conveyancing checks. Lots of things can go wrong at this stage, causing the house sale to fall through, so the property may even come back on the market again. 

Sometimes these two terms are used interchangeably, so it’s worth checking whether an offer has actually been accepted so you know exactly what’s going on. 

Can you view and make an offer on a property that’s “under offer” or “sold STC”? 

Yes, you can! Interested buyers can still make an offer on a property that’s “under offer” or “sold STC”. 

This is because the house sale isn’t legally binding until both the buyer’s lawyer and the seller’s lawyer – both called conveyancers or conveyancing solicitors – formally review and accept identical signed contracts. Once that’s done, the buyer pays their deposit, the mortgage money is released by the lender, and the sale is finalised. 

Until that happens? The house is technically still up for grabs! 

Making a better offer after another buyer has had theirs accepted is called gazumping. It’s totally legal, if perhaps a little unethical. The buyer who gets gazumped certainly won’t be happy, as they’ll miss out on a property they loved and be left to foot the bill for the non-refundable mortgage, survey, and solicitor fees.

But, ultimately, there’s not much they can do about it. You can request house viewings in the usual way, even if properties are listed as under offer or SSTC. And if you like what you see enough to make a bid, the agent is obligated to pass on any new offers to the seller. 

You may find that your (higher) offer is more tempting to the seller, but you don’t always have to go higher. You could simply match the existing bid, but demonstrate that you can move faster (because you’re a cash buyer or you’re not in a property chain). If the seller wants a quick sale, and the first bidder is dragging their heels, you could nip in ahead of them and win the day.

Heads up: If it’s your bid that’s “under offer” or “sold STC”, it’s a good idea to ask the seller to take the property off the market to lower the risk of gazumping. They don’t have to do this, so building a good relationship with them as early as possible will help here. You’ll also want to move the house sale forward quickly to avoid any last-minute rivals, so make sure you have your mortgage paperwork in order. 

How long can a property be “under offer”? 

There’s no limit for how long a property can be “under offer”. It all depends on how much time the seller takes to accept the offer in question. 

Then, both parties will need to go through the remainder of the house buying process before the exchange of contracts can happen. Often weeks or months can go by between making the offer and completing the purchase. As we’ve said, it’s only after this stage that the house is officially off the market. 

The timeline for buying a house can vary based on a number of factors. If the process goes smoothly, it could take just three months, or up to six if things get held up. That’s plenty of time for a new buyer to sneak in a higher offer on a property that’s “under offer” or “sold subject to contract”. 

Read more: How long does it take to buy a house?

Why is gazumping less common in Scotland? 

Gazumping is a lot less common in Scotland, simply because all property purchases are handled by estate agent solicitors who are bound by strict Law Society of Scotland rules. 

Once an offer has been officially submitted by the buyer’s solicitor and accepted by the seller’s solicitor, the seller’s solicitor cannot accept further offers. If the seller wants to explore another offer, they’ll have to find a brand new solicitor to do so. 

So you can make an offer on a property that’s already had an offer accepted in Scotland. But you’ll have a harder job convincing the seller, as they’ll have to consider it worth the hassle (and expense) of dropping their solicitor. 

Read more: How long does it take to buy a house in Scotland?

Whether you’re a buyer considering making an offer on a property or you’re worried about getting gazumped, Habito’s complete home-buying service can help. We’ll walk you through everything, and let you monitor the progress on your very own personalised dashboard.

Find out more here.