How to stop a house chain collapsing

No chain. Those are the two words we all want to see when we look at estate agents' details for the house of our dreams. But chains occur in 85 per cent of property transactions, usually starting with a first-time buyer and then moving along a line of existing owners.

The chain usually ends with an owner who just wants to sell - perhaps on behalf of a deceased relative or to move abroad. - and thus does not want to buy another property.

When the market is hot and there are more buyers than homes on sale, chains tend to be strong. Purchasers usually overlook minor faults when viewing or reading surveys.

But when the market cools, as it has this past year, chains progress slowly as buyers have a wide choice. "Things have changed a lot. Buyers and solicitors are ultra-cautious and want everything to be right," says Rupert Sweeting of estate agent Knight Frank.

These days about 25 per cent of chains break. "Sometimes it's because a survey reveals a problem, there's a legal complication, or because of a job change, divorce or illness. But most sales fall through because someone changes their mind," says Peter Bolton-King, chief executive at the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA).

Agents say there are ways of minimising chains breaking - but these may limit sellers getting the best price and buyers making a quick move. Here are some:

n Try to sell to a first-time buyer or someone who has already sold and moved out of their property.

* Accept an offer only from someone who can prove they are ready to move and can afford your property.

* Play hardball - accept two or more offers and say the first to exchange contracts will have the home.

* Sell your property and rent or live with friends or family, before starting to look for a new home.

* Arrange your mortgage and solicitor before putting your home on the market.

Few buyers, sellers and estate agents follow these tips. Perhaps this confirms what we thought all along - trading property brings out the desperate and ruthless in us all.

"We once had a chain with a very expensive country house at the top and an inexpensive flat at the bottom which simply wouldn't sell. The seller of the big house got so fed up he bought the flat himself," says Richard Page of London estate agency John D Wood.

Relationships can cause problems. "My client had a cash buyer purchasing a home for his daughter. The deal collapsed when the daughter fell out with her boyfriend," says Mary Still of Stacks Property Search.

NAEA chief executive Peter Bolton-King reckons talking minimises the risk. "By building relationships you can perhaps increase your chances of keeping a chain together. It is more difficult to let somebody down if you have got to know them a little," he says.

Well, perhaps. I put my home up for sale in 2003 and found a self-employed buyer, a father of two. I invited him for tea. Yet there followed months of excuses why no offer appeared. In the end the deal fell through.

But help may soon be at hand for those stuck in chains. The Land Registry, which monitors property sales, is setting up a confidential website for estate agents, conveyancing solicitors, buyers and sellers in three pilot areas. For six months from this summer they will be urged to use the website as a blog, allowing everyone in the chain to check on progress.

"Everyone who has ever bought a house knows how fraught the process can be. We believe about a quarter of residential chains fall apart at the moment, and our online service aims to reduce this misery," says Liz Hirst, the registry's director of electronic conveyancing, and leader of the pilot scheme in Bristol, Portsmouth and Fareham.

From summer 2007 there should be more help when Home Information Packs (HIP), the reports about the condition and "service record" of every home on sale, must be prepared by sellers and given to would-be purchasers.

"Packs should alert buyers early to many of the problems that lead to chains breaking at a late stage," says a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which is behind the new law.

One estate agent involved in a HIP pilot in Bristol says the rate of broken chains before packs were used hit 26 per cent; since then, the rate has fallen to under 2 per cent. Let's hope this is how the future will work. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Why chains break

* Absence of correct building-regulation documents and planning permission

* Sellers refuse to remedy defects identified on surveys

* Bans on pets

* Uncertainty on rights of way

* Sellers refusing to pass on residents' parking permits

* Properties selling just above Stamp Duty thresholds

* Confusion over land boundaries between country estates

Source: estate agents

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice