When is a ‘sold’ property really sold?

August 28, 2023

If you are looking for a new home, you may browse online portals, see details in an agents’ branch window or look at the boards outside houses, noting a variety of different terms used to describe the property’s status.

If you are looking for a new home, you may browse online portals, see details in an agents’ branch window or look at the boards outside houses, noting a variety of different terms used to describe the property’s status.

Frequently used will be ‘sold’, ‘under offer’ and ‘sold subject to contracts (SSTC)’ but what do these different terms mean and which one describes a home that is truly sold and off the market?

The issue has been deemed confusing enough for the National Trading Standards Estate & Letting Agency (NTSELA) team to issue clear guidance on the matter. It wants buyers and sellers to have a better understanding of the different ways an agent can describe a property and how the description affects the cut off for offers.

In some sales, potential purchasers can still submit an offer even when a property is described as ‘sale agreed’ or ‘SSTC’, so buyers shouldn’t instantly dismiss homes with these labels. It’s possible a seller will want a reserve offer should their accepted buyer withdraw from the sale.

It will, however, be up to the seller as to whether they want the marketing of their home to continue after they have accepted an offer, and whether other offers will be considered if their property is described as ‘sale agreed’ or ‘SSTC’. If this is the case, the listing should clearly detail this so potential buyers are aware.

As it is a legal requirement for a property’s status to be displayed clearly, and for the information to be updated in a timely fashion to avoid further confusion, we thought it wise to share the NTSELA’s definitions of different terms, as follows:

Under offer: A property where an offer has been received, which is under consideration by the vendor but the property is normally still on the market, i.e., further offers may be made dependent upon the vendor’s written instructions. This description should only be used until the offer is accepted or declined.


Sale agreed: A property where an offer has been accepted by the seller but, for example, contracts may not have been prepared or the buyer may not be in a final position to proceed. The property may or may not still be on the market, i.e., further offers may be made dependent upon the seller’s written instructions. The seller’s decision on future marketing is material information in this context and should be clearly stated on property listings to avoid any confusion amongst potential buyers. This description may be used until the property is sold or the sale falls through.

Sold Subject to Contract (SSTC): A property where an offer has been accepted by the seller, subject to contracts being exchanged. The seller should be asked by the agent to confirm whether the property should continue to be marketed for sale and this decision should be clearly stated on property listings, as above. This description may be used until the sales process is complete or the sale falls through.

Sold subject to conclusion of missives (in Scotland): A property where an offer has been accepted but the sale has not yet concluded, pending the exchange and agreement of the missives. The property should no longer be actively marketed for sale. In rare cases, the sale may still fall through, hence the use of this description.

Sold: A property where the sale has concluded, resulting in the buyer becoming the legal owner of the property. ‘Sold’ property listings should be removed in line with property portal requirements, relevant codes of practice and local planning laws.

The published clarification also covers properties that are being advertised to let, as follows:

Under offer: A property where an offer has been received, which is under consideration by the landlord, but the property is normally still on the market, i.e., further offers may be made dependent upon the landlord’s written instructions. This description should only be used until the offer is accepted or declined.

Let agreed: A property where a landlord has, in principle, agreed to enter into a rental agreement with a prospective renter, subject to further checks and referencing. The use of this term is not subject to a relevant person having received a holding deposit from the prospective renter.


Let: A property where a landlord and renter have entered into a binding rental agreement.

Descriptions when a property comes to market

As well as a different number of terms used to describe a property after an offer has been submitted, there are a variety of phrases used when an agent markets a property. The NTSELA team has also provided a clear definition for these:

New on the market: A property that has not been advertised since the last sale or let of that property. This description should only be used for a short period of time (NTSELA says a ‘short period of time’ would usually not exceed one calendar month.

New instruction: A property where an agent has recently been instructed to market (and which may have been offered for sale by another agent without being sold or let); the description should only be used for a short period of time.

New and exclusive: A property that is either a new instruction or new on the market which is exclusive to that agent or portal (depending on the context). The description ‘new’ should only be used for a short period of time, although the term ‘exclusive’ can be used for as long as it is applicable.

New method of sale/let: A property that is now being advertised for sale or let using an alternative mechanism to the original advert (e.g., changing to an auction or sealed bid for a property sale). This description should only be used for a short period of time.


Reduced: A property that has been recently reduced in price. Any reduction should be a genuine reduction against the previous price.

We are proud to be working within the NTSELA’s guidelines and are here to advise buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants on the matter of property descriptions. If you’d like to know whether you can still make an offer on any property we are advertising, do get in touch.

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