Stuck in a chain and moving nowhere

An email arrives from my mother. “Hi John, any house news?” she asks, a reference to our plan to move to a new family home. If she were with me in person, I can just imagine her cheery tone as she asked that question. Alas, she’s not with me and so I respond in writing, informing her that there is no further news as we’re stuck in a chain, an infernal chain that is going nowhere.

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We’re stuck in a house buying chain and it hasn’t moved in weeks. I’m preparing for it to fall apart. Pic credit: Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash.

Our desire to move house started off in a whirlwind of activity in the earliest moments of 2018. When January 2 came around, I started phoning estate agents to arrange valuations.

We quickly selected an agent to sell our place, got a mortgage in principle in place and more then 50 people came to view our property. I genuinely lost track of the number of offers we had, eventually settling on one slightly lower than we wanted but, hey, it still worked.

After a couple of false starts, we embarked on our own house hunt. Helen and Izzy came with Mrs Adams and I on many of the viewings as we tried to select a new family home.

We came up with a shortlist of three properties and we couldn’t decide which to go for. To help us make a decision, I drew up a spreadsheet 10 pages long listing everything from train and bus services to nearby shops. Looking to Helen and Izzy’s future, my spreadsheet also considered secondary school catchment areas and facilities that might keep teenagers entertained.

We made offers and one was accepted. It was early days, but this was a moment of celebration.

Since then, nothing has progressed. That initial flurry of activity has well and truly hit the buffers because we are now stuck in a chain.

The chain: Surely the most irritating part of the English house buying system. I know that chains exist in some form or another in most house buying systems, even in Scotland to a degree, but there has to be a better way. The Aussies have managed do away with it, but our poorly regulated property market seems to be ideal breeding ground for chains and so it’s no surprise so many sales go awry.

I’ve bought and sold property three times in the past and through accident rather than design, always managed to avoid getting stuck in a chain. Now my family and I are caught up in one and I dislike it intensely.

Our chain is four buyers long. Our vendor still has to find a property, so it could get longer still.

We’ve been in this position for weeks. When I go on the school run, I’m constantly being asked: “Any news about your house?” I simply tell whoever’s asked that we’ve found a place and had an offer accepted but things haven’t moved on.

When I respond, I can see people’s eye’s misting over in a hasn’t-John-told-me-this-three-times-already? kind of way. It’s not a good sign.

It’s got to the point where my expectations are low. If our agent rang me in a day or two and said our buyer’s or our buyer’s buyers were pulling out because of lack of progress, I wouldn’t be remotely surprised.

When we bought this house, we purposefully moved into rented accommodation for seven months so we could buy and move as chain-free cash buyers. While our mortgage would enable us to do this again, it would be risky because we’d need to move in a few months and no landlord is going to let to us for less than six months.

I can only describe it as tedious and dreary. We’ve seen some lovely properties and the one we’re in a chain to buy would be a huge improvement to our present family home.

Nonetheless, I can see it going wrong. While it takes a few months for the conveyancers and surveyors to do their thing, in my experience and the experience of others, you either start talking about exchange and completion dates within a couple of weeks of the offer being accepted, or it all falls apart.

It doesn’t bode well that our own solicitor has written to us asking if we’re still looking to proceed with our proposed purchase because they hadn’t heard from us for a while. I’m simply waiting for a phone call to tell me the whole thing is off.

This may seem unduly negative. I think I’m just being realistic. It’s either going to go ahead or it isn’t and right now, I need convincing things will proceed.

What’s your experience of being stuck in a chain? Maybe you were in a chain for months and it all worked out well? Do you think I have a point and feel that are, in many cases, a time-consuming, slow, painful way of watching a house purchase die?


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  1. April 23, 2018 / 6:21 am

    That sounds like an awful system. There is plenty to not like about the Australian property market, but at least we don’t have that kind of scenario. I had no idea such systems existed.

    • John Adams
      April 26, 2018 / 10:02 am

      Oh yes, this awful system exists. Scotland has a different system but it’s completely opaque with sealed bids and chains do occur, although they are discouraged.

  2. Vicky
    April 23, 2018 / 8:53 am

    Where do I start on this one. I feel your pain. My last house sale/purchase was 5 properties long. It took over 6 months from the offer on my property. We had 2 failed exchange to completion attempts. One because the original mortgage offer further below us had run out as it had all taken longer than 6 months. Then my sellers had assured us all they would not be trying to add on a property sale to an already ridiculously stressful situation for all. We were all primed to complete (which is quite a task with 5 involved). Then there solicitors say ‘Oh we are just waiting to hear from their sellers ‘ after some choice words from me they accepted they had to let completion happen without adding yet another property on. We exchanged 24 hours before completion. Nightmare! Try booking a removal van on August bank holiday Friday only days before you know you have to be out of your 4 bed family home. Anyway I will stop now……the exchange/completion bit is tricky with so many in the chain. Sorry but forearmed is forewarned and all that. Good luck
    I never did it again!! I live in Spain now! That was a breeze in comparison! 🤣

    • John Adams
      April 26, 2018 / 10:01 am

      Wow, I really wouldn’t want to book a removals firm with that short notice! The interesting thing is, I’m hearing time and again from people who say they either have rented, or we should rent. Interestingly, this is what we did the last time we moved house. it seems to have become the norm and I find myself wondering why? That’s a sure sign the system is totally broken! Hope you’re enjoying your time in Spain.

      • Vicky
        April 29, 2018 / 9:41 am

        The short notice between exchange and completion seems to be becoming more acceptable now. At the beginning of our sale/purchase journey, I rather naively said: “Oh I must insist on at least 4 weeks between exchange and completion”. Years ago this was commonplace. To allow for booking removal vans etc. Not anymore it seems. When 5 or more are in a chain and desperate to complete it just doesn’t seem to happen. Okay between you and me 😉 I might of lied to my removal company to secure the van. Told them I’d already completed a week before I did. Removal companies are keen to see proof of completion before accepting a booking. If the third completion had of failed then I would of had to pay in full for my van. Move or not. Risky, but I was Getting to point where I had no choice. Accepting an offer on your property and finding one you want is only the beginning of it all! When it’s a family home, few steps up the housing ladder then a chain is pretty likely to occur. Madness isn’t it?
        I’m enjoying Spain very much. Gracias 😎

        • John Adams
          May 2, 2018 / 10:03 am

          How poignant. Spoke to our agent yesterday. I’ve been told to prepare for one week between exchange and completion which is totally daft.

  3. April 23, 2018 / 11:04 am

    From the offer on my Mum’s house in September, it took until the end of January before she actually moved into her new home, thank fully she moved to a new build so there was no on going chain. It was made more painful by the fact I had to do it all from Dubai. However we purchased an empty flat and paid cash the year before and that still took 3 months. I just think this is how long it all takes these days. It certainly didn’t seem as stressful as buying our family home in 2002 and we sold 2 houses, in chains to buy 1 house with 3 others ahead of them.
    What’s likely to happen now is you’ll get a call one day and be told, contracts are exchanged and you’ll be moving in 3 days time. Good luck with it all and if you don’t think your solicitor is moving quick enough, a mention of the ombudsmen usually spurs them on

    • John Adams
      April 26, 2018 / 9:59 am

      I’ll keep that ombudsman idea in my back pocket! To be honest, it’s the top of the chain that is moving slowly. That said, we may have a solution in place. Watch this space! Can’t imagine what it was like trying to deal with your mum’s place from Dubai!

  4. April 24, 2018 / 1:25 pm

    I hope it manages to get moving again soon for you all! How frustrating! We are going to (hopefully) be buying our first home later in the year, we’re hoping for a quick process – HA!

    • John Adams
      April 26, 2018 / 9:55 am

      Very best of luck Kai. If you’re a first time buyer, you have a greater chance of a smooth transaction. I wouldn’t be too nervous if I were in your position. Whatever happens, good luck!