'Cheats' dashed all our dreams of home; First-time buyers reveal gazumping nightmare.
FIRST-TIME home buyers Christopher Rigby and girlfriend Ilya Hughes are devastated.
They should have been spending their first Christmas together in their own property, but that dream was snatched from them at the 11th hour.
Christopher, 25, and Ilya, 21, are victims of gazumping - which has again reared its ugly head in the property market as a lack of affordable homes leaves new buyers literally battling it out to get that first foot on the ladder.
Gazumping is where a seller accepts a verbal offer from a prospective buyer and then accepts a higher offer from another buyer.
It occurs when there is a shortage of properties available, creating a seller's market and pushing up prices.
It was rife in the 1980s during the property boom years, and then again in the boom-and-bust years of the early to mid-2000s.
According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the term gazumping derives from the Yiddish word 'gazump', meaning to steal or cheat.
That's exactly what Christopher and Ilya feel has happened to them - that someone has cheated them out of their home.
Christopher, from Letchworth, Stevenage, says: "We have saved relentlessly for the past three years to get a deposit together.
"We got very excited when we found a two-bedroom house that was ideal for us and that we could afford, but that turned to total disappointment.
"I was dreading the phone call I had to make to Ilya to break the news we had lost it. She was really upset.
"I was more upset about being PS1,400 out of pocket after paying fees to our broker and solicitors, and for a survey.
"It's hard work getting that cash together, and now we will have to find it again - on top of the fact that property prices keep rising daily, so we'll need a bigger deposit, and our mortgage repayment could be higher."
Everything was going well for Christopher and Ilya until three days prior to exchange when the seller accepted an offer above the PS195,000 they had agreed upon.
He explains: "We decided to go PS3,000 higher, but the seller said it wasn't enough. We didn't want to offer any more as the house needed work doing on it."
The couple have no idea how long it will be before they find another suitable property they can afford.
Christopher adds: "We don't want a flat as we want a garden. We are thinking longer term towards possibly having a family.
"There is nothing else on the market now that we can afford."
Luckily Christopher and Ilya still live with their parents. If they had been renting, they could have ended up homeless.
"It's heartbreaking to go through the whole process and then get dumped at the very last minute," says Christopher.
"We are both really angry and disappointed as we were looking forward to starting our new life together."
He and Ilya are not alone. According to My Home Move, almost a quarter of its conveyancers have noticed an increase in gazumping over the last few months.
More than a third say the number of sellers pulling out of transactions has increased, while almost two-thirds say sellers are changing their minds or asking for more money during the sale process. And it's first-time buyers who are being hit the hardest because of fierce competition for suitable, affordable properties.
London and the South East are seeing the highest number of cases of gazumping as the housing supply is limited and the property market moves the fastest.
Doug Crawford, CEO of My Home Move, says: "There is a stark shortage of properties for sale at the moment, and in some parts of the market gazumping has increased.
"With house prices continuing to increase, we are receiving anecdotal feedback that some sellers are accepting offers but not taking their property off the market in anticipation of a higher offer, which is encouraging gazumping.
"The stamp duty increases for more expensive homes has put the brakes on this part of the market, so gazumping is much rarer for these properties.
"For someone who has worked hard to scrape together a deposit and found the home they want to buy, being gazumped is hugely frustrating and stressful."
RICS say under the Estate Agency Act 1979, estate agents have to keep their clients informed of any offers received on a property - even if an offer has been accepted verbally.
All offers in England and Wales are subject to contract. Until exchange of contracts, the buyer has no right to redress, and can end up out of pocket if the sale falls through.
In Scotland, gazumping is not an issue as once an offer is accepted, it cannot be withdrawn.
TIPS TO AVOID BEING GAZUMPED
Have everything ready so S. This includes having your funds in one place, making sure your mortgage is almost approved and having the required ID ready
Make your offer conditional on the property being taken off the market. Ask the seller to agree in writing to take the property off the market once a verbal offer has been accepted.
Get your solicitor to use exclusivity or lock-in agreements for nonrefundable deposits.
Instruct your conveyancer immediately after your offer has been accepted (preferably online or over the phone to avoid postal delays) and provide them with the funds they need to carry out the property searches.
Keep the seller and estate agent in the loop and up to date on progress as you head towards exchanging.
Push to exchange contracts as quickly as possible - especially once any searches and surveys have been carried out.
Buying at auction or using sealed bids means there is no risk of gazumping.
"Now we're out of pocket by PS1,400 - and have to start again
DEVASTATED Christopher and Ilya had hoped to have their own home by Christmas