Breaking property chains

Getting caught in a lengthy chain is one of the biggest headaches of the house-buying process. Avoid it like the plague! But if you are stuck with a serpentine series of transactions, be realistic, hold your nerve, check and recheck your paperwork and stay in touch with your conveyancer.

Breaking property chains

Think links
In property transactions a 'chain' starts with someone who doesn't have anything to sell, moves through people who are both buying and selling, and ends with someone who is selling only. Normally all the contracts in such a chain have to be exchanged on the same day.

Chains can be limited to a few properties, or can include tens, even hundreds, of links. And it only takes one buyer or seller to pull out for the whole chain to fall apart.

Don't get caught
One of the best ways of dealing with a chain is to try to avoid it (although this is easier said than done!) When viewing a property ask if the sellers already have somewhere to move to. Lucky you if they aren't buying themselves (moving abroad? Selling their second home?) and the chain ends there.

Find out as much as possible about the seller's situation. If they are buying, too, do they have a specific timescale? If they need a quick exchange then they will be pushing the chain through. If they are vague then they may not be serious about moving or there may be hidden complications. If their chosen house is already part of a lengthy chain, be wary - you could be disappointed or in for a long wait.

Be prepared
Most chains fall apart because the paperwork is delayed. Time can be tight between offers being accepted and contracts being exchanged. Prepare as much as you can in advance so you won't break the chain.

Arrange your mortgage in principal before you make an offer on a property. Mortgage lenders can't be rushed and a mortgage application can take six to eight weeks to process. Sign up a solicitor or licensed conveyancer as soon as you begin house hunting. A good solicitor can get a headstart on the paperwork so you won't hold up the chain. Do your research on the property in advance of making an offer. Finding out about potential problems in advance could save crucial time later. Do whatever you can do to help the conveyancing process along. A call to your local authority to check on the progress of your search could speed things up considerably, for example.

Expect delays
Try to make yourself as flexible as possible so you can ride out the inevitable delays. If you're renting, move to a monthly lease to take the pressure off. Plan for the worst-case scenario and you could just be pleasantly surprised!