We are sale agreed on a property, but the vendor won’t move out

Property Clinic: You must tell the agent you can’t wait indefinitely, and you may need to reset your expectations

We are first-time buyers who went sale agreed towards the end of last year. We had all of our documents in order, arranged valuation, got the survey completed and the loan offer was signed off with our solicitor.

However, the seller is still living in the house and the agent says they are still looking for their own place. I don’t know how long it will take but already several months have gone by.

I’m wondering why they put the house for sale and gave somebody who is interested false hope since they cannot go or sell until they find a place. We could seek a solicitor’s advice, but we would rather not and are frustrated by all the expense and time spent. We had hoped for this house, and it is awful to have to go back to zero.

Ed Carey writes: This is one half of one of the most frequent frustrations in today's property market. Someone wants to move, whether a trade up or trade down. But to do so, they need to sell first. And while they may see a house they like, they usually can't bid unless they have offers on their own. So, they need to get theirs on the market, and the classic Catch-22 situation applies; as soon as they get offers on their house, the one they were looking at is probably gone and now they have nowhere to go. You are the other half of the frustration – you have seen the property you want, but the sale can't progress as your vendors are waiting for something to suit themselves.


This scenario is primarily caused by a lack of supply in the second-hand market. To give some statistics, I looked at the number of second-hand house for sale on myhome.ie in Co Meath, where I’m based, on a particular date in January in each year from 2019 to 2022 and the results are quite stark. On the particular date in January 2019 there were just over 850 houses for sale in Co Meath. On the same date in 2022, there were just under 350, which represents a drop of 60 per cent. This merely reinforces your predicament of a lack of choice of available houses.

Couple this with an increase in prices which accelerated in 2021, around the time you agreed to purchase the house, and you run the risk of finding it more difficult to buy back into the market in a walk-away scenario.

However, the flip side for your vendors is problematic also: if they lose you, their first-time buyers, they’re at the end of the queue whenever they start looking again. But I think your situation as would-be buyers is slightly worse. Unless your vendors are in a “must-sell” situation, their worst-case scenario in the event they don’t sell is that they still have their house, albeit not their preferred house, but they’re not homeless. But if they or you pull out of the deal, you are definitely ruing missed opportunities.

The key to this is an open discussion with the agent. It probably should have been made clear at the time of viewing that vacant possession might not be readily available, and you would need to reset your expectations. You will need to make it clear that you can’t wait indefinitely.

The agent and vendors will know that if you walk, they’re back on the market and are now a less appealing buyer for any new listings that might suit them. The option for them is that they proceed to sell to you and rent on a short-term basis while on the lookout for their new house. When something comes up for them, they’re in the driving seat: they will have their money in the bank or, like any first-time buyer, they will have no chain behind them.

I do think you will certainly need to start looking at other options. You have no guarantee at all that this house will still be there for you in the short or medium term. It is indeed very frustrating, but in a market of extremely tight supply, you can’t afford to miss out on other opportunities. Your booking deposit will be refunded in the event you find another house, but you will be at the loss of surveyor’s and valuer’s fees, and perhaps some legal outlay.

Ed Carey is an estate agent and chartered member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie