Even in a buoyant property market, long delays in buying and selling can cause a shared nightmare. Penny Jackson spoke to five members of one chain
It is bad enough having to rely on the efficiency of your own solicitor and surveyor when moving home; but this is nothing compared to the frustration of waiting for four people down the line to get old Mr Boggis from Boggis & Boggis stirred into action.

Chains may have been forgotten as the market turned from depression to froth, but they never really went away. Just watch how they can grow in a quieter, more stable market. The following interviewees reveal how it feels to see the weeks and months tick by. In each case, the home that was selected in February of this year was not moved into until last month, and as one exchange date came and went, some thought that they would never move at all.

Mick Meekings was selling a three-bedroom terraced house in Hutton, near Brentwood, Essex, and moving to Herne Bay. His house was on the market with Black Horse Agencies for pounds 80,995.

"I would prefer to be in the Malayan jungle than move house again. I was 18 when I volunteered to go out to the Far East, and that was a stressful time. I went out with Leslie Thomas on the troopship to Singapore and was one of the lads in his bestseller The Virgin Soldiers. But wading through jungle is not as torturous as all this has been.

"I'm 68 now, and the only way they'll get me out of here is in a wooden overcoat. It was the first time I had moved in 38 years. My wife Susan and I were asked to rush things through because somebody wanted to move by Easter, and I even drove the papers down to Herne Bay myself. Then the murkiness fell.

"Although three of us were ready, something went wrong and we couldn't exchange. The weeks went by and we thought, `Oh God, someone is going to drop out'. We had paid for a surveyor and we'd already received the solicitor's bill, and when you're a pensioner, pounds 500 matters.

"At Black Horse they were holding our hands and kept saying that they'd seen worse and not to worry. But we wanted the house so badly. Susan was getting a bit tearful.

"Then, at the end of June, my solicitor rang early one morning to say that four in the chain were ready and she was going to sort it out that day. At 4 o'clock she called to say it was finalised. Susan and I put our arms around each other and cried."

Mr Meekings sold his house to Sylvia Hodd for pounds 80,000. He bought his house from Kirk Pattenden.

Sylvia Hodd had her two-bedroom flat in south London on the market with Kinleigh, Folkard & Hayward for pounds 75,000. She was buying with a friend, Jean Veal.

"At one point I got so fed up I organised a phone attack. We weren't supposed to have the names of everyone else's solicitor, but by devious means we found out and started to hassle the one who was holding things up.

"All we knew was that at first there had been a rush to move, and then somebody went on holiday without leaving their solicitor with power of attorney. Then the solicitor was always in court, and so on...

"We had to move in order to be closer to a relative who is suffering from multiple sclerosis. As soon as we saw the house we knew that it was the right place for us. We went straight to the agent and made an offer, and the house was taken off the market at the end of last February.

"A young couple - first-time buyers - fell in love with our flat, and we knew they wouldn't drop out. Because everything was delayed, they had to move out of their flat, so we squashed our things up to make room for them - we all got quite pally in the chain, by the end.

"A particular headache for us was insuring our mortgage. One company wouldn't insure us at all because Jean and I are friends, not partners."

Sylvia Hodd sold her flat for pounds 70,000 to Stefano Lo Presti and Elisa Rubio, and bought the Meekings' Brentwood house.

Stefano Lo Presti, a first-time buyer, finds it hard to believe that such a situation could ever happen in his home country, Italy.

"It would never have been this complicated in Italy. There, you put your deposit down and that is that. I suppose we were a bit naive, but nobody told us what sort of problems we might encounter. We were living on tenterhooks because we took a risk and gave two months' notice on our flat. Even then, we had to store our stuff in a warehouse and stay with my grandmother before the second completion date.

"It took longer than we'd thought to get the mortgage offer sorted out, and we found the Abbey National very impersonal. Each time we called we dealt with somebody new.

"We loved the flat and put in an offer straight away for pounds 72,000. We wanted to extend the lease and were prepared to spend pounds 1,500, but the leaseholders wanted pounds 5,000 so we went to the two ladies and they agreed on pounds 70,000. They were wonderful and even made room for some of our furniture. It was still a nightmare, especially as I have a small record label and run the business from home."

Kirk Pattenden and his wife Diane were selling his three-bedroom terraced house in Herne Bay through Wilbee & Sons for pounds 59,995.

"You can speak to your daughter in Australia but you can't seem to get two solicitors to communicate with each other. We were given too many hopes early on, and as we had already lost one house, the delay was very worrying. It put an undue strain on the family and work because I run a business from home.

"We never seemed to have enough information, and you begin to feel as if your life is held on a piece of string. In my work, if I fail to call someone back, I don't get the job.

"Of course, when things go wrong everybody looks around for someone else to blame. At least we kept friendly with each other and it was nice to be able to pop into our new house informally. But it is frustrating to be so reliant on everyone else."

Mr Pattenden sold his house for the asking price to the Meekings. He bought from the Gilberts.

The Gilberts' three-bedroom semi in Herne Bay was for sale with Ward & Partners for pounds 78,995.

Frances Gilbert: "We had a big garden which required a lot of maintenance. We were always putting up fences or mowing the lawn. When we saw the large flat in Broadstairs, which was quiet and close to the sea, we thought it would be a good move.

"Then there was a hitch. The flat had been a holiday home, and our solicitor discovered it was leasehold, not freehold. This had to be amended, but the letters to the landlord took weeks. I was beginning to think it was never going to happen. In the middle of it all we were in Spain on a holiday we'd booked ages ago, all the time worrying about the house.

"Then things were held up again. I know other people in the chain were getting upset. You have no idea what to do, though. We never felt we were kept updated by the solicitors."

The Gilberts sold to the Pattendens for pounds 76,500.