Property chains when buying or selling: a guide

A broken property chain can disrupt the process of buying a home, but there are steps you can take to make things run more smoothly…

A broken property chain can disrupt the process of buying a home, but there are steps you can take to make things run more smoothly…

Daniel Evans
Head of Mortgages
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Posted 3 JANUARY 2020

What is a property chain?

A property chain describes a sequence of house purchases that are linked to one another. The chain begins with someone who’s only buying and ends with a person who’s only selling. Every other member of the chain is trying to sell and buy a property at the same time, creating dependencies in both directions. If one link in the chain breaks, everyone can be affected. 

What can disrupt a property chain?

Many things can disrupt a property chain, including:

  • a sale falls through because a buyer’s finances aren’t in order, or a seller decides to take their home off the market
  • a buyer is unable to get a mortgage
  • a building survey, which is made during the process of conveyancing, shows problems with a property.

It’s also common for delays to occur within a chain for administrative reasons, such as a person forgetting to sign a document or missing an important email.

How long does it take to move house if I’m part of a chain?

Not surprisingly, the time varies. If you’re part of a small chain involving two or three house purchases, a move could take between three and four months. If there’s no chain, it could take as little as two months.

What’s the role of estate agents in a chain?

Estate agents work for the person who’s selling the property, so it’s in their interests that everything goes smoothly. However, they will also try to secure the highest sale price, so they might disrupt the process if a new buyer comes in with a higher offer.

What’s the role of solicitors in a chain?

Solicitors look after the legal paperwork associated with buying and selling a house. Their role is to check details of ownership and other matters affecting the interests of their client. In the course of their work, solicitors are likely to raise queries that take time to be answered. If they discover a problem or trigger a dispute, this could have a major impact on the chain as a sale/purchase might be delayed or even cancelled. 

How can I ensure things run smoothly for me?

There’s no getting away from the fact that the process of buying a new home is complicated. However, if you plan well and understand all your options, then you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of limiting any disruption linked to property chains. Here’s a summary of the steps to take:

  • Shop around for a great-value mortgage
  • Make sure you budget for all the expenses you’re likely to face – such as solicitors fees, estate agent’s fees (if you’re selling), stamp duty (if you’re buying) and removal costs.
  • Contact your estate agent and solicitor regularly and ask if there’s anything else they or you should be doing
  • Keep copies of all documents relating to the buying and selling process – include notes of any phone conversations you have
  • Take care to return any paperwork quickly – consider using couriers or special delivery to speed up the process
  • Consider buying a home where the chain is short or non-existent – for example, if the property’s empty because it’s the owner’s second home
  • If you're selling and have offers on the table, you might want to choose a buyer who isn't in a chain themselves, such as a first-time buyer.

The process of buying and selling property can be stressful, so prepare yourself for some disruption and delays along the way. If you respond quickly to requests and remain positive in looking for solutions, you’ll give yourself a good chance of a hassle-free process.

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