Imagine a chain free buyer has transferred a 10% deposit and contracts have been exchanged on a property he/she would like to buy.

If he/she pulls out, this deposit would be forfeited.

In the English market, which seems more geared towards sellers, much reading ignores the opposite situation, the case of the seller pulling out.

In that case it would seem fair if the buyer was compensated in addition to the deposit plus interest, legal fees and possibly housing costs, as for instance house prices could have gone up by thousands or tens of thousands during the 2, 3 or more months it may take to get from non-binding verbal agreement to exchange of contracts.

(I guess nothing prevents people including that in the contract, but also that sellers might balk at the idea as I do not think that is traditionally done.)

  • What could the buyer realistically expect in this situation?

Would it depend on whether:

  • The buyer was not chain free?

  • There was a chain on the other side of the seller?

  • Please define chain free Apr 14, 2016 at 17:39
  • I believe by chain-free the OP means there are no contingencies on the contracts such as the buyer selling his or her existing home in order to have enough money for the purchase.
    – mkennedy
    Apr 14, 2016 at 18:01
  • Correct - variation 1: There are two transactions and the buyer in question is selling as well as buying; variation 2: Both buyer and seller sit between two transactions - there are three in total.
    – nsandersen
    Apr 15, 2016 at 17:00

1 Answer 1


The general rule of contracts is that you must do what the contract requires or you are in breach: the seller must sell, the buyer must buy.

The specific rules which allow a buyer to not buy at the cost of sacrificing their deposit are a concession in the law to the buyer. There is no corresponding concession available to the seller.

If the buyer pays the price then they own the property; if the seller refuses to leave then they are trespassing and can be sued and/or arrested by the police.

If the seller refuses to accept the buyer's money, then they are in breach of the contract and the buyer has all of the normal remedies available to them. The most relevant being seeking a court order requiring the seller to sell and/or suing for damages; such damages will include their actual costs and could include pure economic costs like an equivalent property is now £100,000 more expensive; the onus is on the buyer to prove their loss.

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