How to deal with property transactions when you’re in a chain

Q4 2017

The uncertainty of being part of a property chain can add a huge amount of stress to the process of moving house. Barclay Macfarlane, Head of our Fulham Office, gives some tips on reducing the risk associated with long chains.

In many parts of the country, property chains are becoming less common, but in London, they are on the rise. A recent Financial Times article highlighted the “curse of the chain” for buyers in the capital, citing a reduction in the number of chain-free buy-to-let investors as one reason for the fall in chain-free sales.

Ten years ago, it was very rare to deal with a large chain of property transactions, but unfortunately, they are becoming more common. If you do find yourself in a property chain, here are some tips on managing the process.

Property chain pitfalls

There are a whole host of scenarios which could cause a chain to break down. However, it usually comes down to one of the following hold-ups:

  • a buyer or seller changing their mind
  • the process taking too long
  • finance falling through at the last minute
  • delays in getting legal paperwork together
  • a survey revealing problems with a property

In a chain, even a small delay can have a huge knock-on effect for the other parties involved. To prevent delays disrupting the chain, it’s essential that all parties are motivated and committed.

How to avoid getting into a property chain

If the thought of being in a chain keeps you awake at night, then you can take steps to avoid this scenario.

If you already have a home to move to and you’re not in a hurry to sell, you could specifically choose a buyer who isn’t in a chain. In some cases, this may mean accepting a slightly lower offer on your property, but you may decide this is worth the peace of mind you get from not being at the top of a chain.

If you’re buying and selling, then consider selling your property and moving into rented accommodation before looking to buy. Being chain-free is worth a lot to vendors as people want to minimise risk. If you’ve already sold your property, then you may be in a stronger position to clinch the deal on your dream home.

How to reduce the stress of being in a property chain

For many people, dealing with the stress of a chain is just part of the reality of moving house. But there are things you can do to make the process easier.

Communication is particularly important when there are more than two parties in a transaction. Make sure that, when terms are agreed, you have a timeline for exchange and an agreed completion day that everyone’s working to from the outset. Complete all paperwork as soon as you get it and keep in regular contact with your solicitor and estate agent to make sure you’re not the one holding things up.

When you’re in a chain, it can sometimes feel like you have little control over what’s happening. But forewarned is forearmed: if you know what the pitfalls are, you can plan to deal with them. For example:

  • If you accept an offer from someone in a chain, stress to them that you will carry on showing the property until their chain is completed.
  • You could request a non-refundable deposit from your buyer to prove their commitment to the sale. This can also work the other way around. If you have a property to sell, then offering a deposit to your vendor indicates you’re serious about the purchase.
  • If one end of the chain is ready but the other isn’t, you could break the chain by exchanging with your buyer before your vendor is ready.
  • Ask family or friends if you’re able to stay with them to bridge a short gap between selling your house and buying your new home.
  • Put some of your furniture and possessions into storage. Not only can this make moving less stressful, but if you do have to stay with family or in a hotel for a short while, you don’t have to worry about arranging last-minute storage.

If you think you’re likely to end up in a chain, it’s worth bearing this in mind when choosing your estate agent. Having an experienced estate agent who will monitor transactions and keep things moving on your behalf can make the process of being in a chain a lot less stressful.