Buying a house can be enough of a headache without the constant stress of the possibility of the broken 'chain' phenomenon. For those who aren't familiar, it's kind of like the domino effect -- put simply a line of buyers and sellers all interlinked. If one falls, the rest tumble like a string of well, dominos. It's certainly not fun if you're stuck in the middle of this -- imagine a series of people, unknown to you, all relying on the transactions of the people above and below them to go without a hitch! Well, unfortunately as we all know life just doesn't work like this. Life's full of hitches -- anything that can go wrong usually will, which is why so many people are keen to avoid this chain scenario. Unfortunately not everyone has that luxury -- those who need to move quickly and don't have the time to wait for example.
"Fortunately most of the purchasers we deal with, especially at the top end of the market, are 'chain free' but in those cases where there is a chain we endeavour to establish, on behalf of the vendor, the status of all parties in the chain -- usually through the relevant agents concerned," says Robert Collard, Director of Robert Holmes an estate agent in Wimbledon.
Let's look at a case study: say person A is waiting for person B to complete the purchase of their property and simultaneously puts an offer on another property. Person B pulls out for whatever reason so person A has to pull out, causing problems for person C, who they in turn are buying from. This also leaves person A out of pocket, as she/he'd already got the surveyors checking out the property and paid up to £1,000 for this service, which is non-refundable.
A nightmare for everyone across the board then - and with UK government figures estimating this happens to one in three properties, it's by no means unusual.
So how can you reduce the risk of getting caught in a chain?
"Obtain confirmation that they have a mortgage offer in principle and before any sale is agreed ask the agent you are buying through to make sure the property qualifies for lending to that specific unit.
Always ensure your agent contacts the other agent (for the Vendor) to exchange information on the exact status of the seller and where appropriate their purchaser, " says Laurence Glynne Partner of LDG, an estate agents in the West End.
It's also possible to avoid the problem altogether by telling your estate agent you only want those who are not in a chain viewing your property. For example, if a first time buyer wants to buy your property they usually have the money ready and aren't relying on anyone below them to sell.
Another option is to wait before selling and if it's possible, try to stay with family or friends, or if you can afford it, rent, so you've a period of calm before buying - take your time and avoid the chain.
These small pointers should put you a bit more in the picture when it comes to the hair-raising experience of buying and/or selling property. But arming yourself with information is the best way to ensure that you can keep things in check and be aware of what's happening.