How to buy and sell your home in a property chain in England and Wales

<span>Property chain illustration</span><span>Illustration: Jamie Wignall/The Guardian</span>
Property chain illustrationIllustration: Jamie Wignall/The Guardian

Pick your estate agent wisely

Unless you have chosen a new-build home, buying a property will usually involve a chain. In Scotland, many of the problems that can cause a chain to collapse may not be such an issue because the legal process means lots of things are fixed from the outset. In England and Wales, however, it is a different matter, and buyers can withdraw without consequence at any point before exchange of contracts. This can make being in a chain very stressful.

Often there are so many people involved, including their various representatives, it can be hard to know what is happening – or if indeed anything is happening, so it’s best to be prepared for what could be a difficult journey.

As a seller, you will be talking to your estate agent fairly often, so choose someone with good communication skills who you like and trust. Speak to at least three estate agents for a valuation and do not be swayed by offers of low commission alone. The most important thing is for the agent to sell your home.

Related: How to get your home ready to sell and get the best price

Many agents claim to be the best, but the only way you can verify this is by checking their sales statistics. Ask the agent to show you their results from the “back end”. This is not part of the usual sales pack and you will probably only be shown this information on their office computer. It usually takes the form of a pie chart on Rightmove, and will reveal the agent’s sales performance compared with that of competitors.

Make sure your agent has a dedicated sales progressor and uses sales people to conduct the viewings. People are busy, so make sure your agent offers late opening hours during the week. Ideally it will be open on a Saturday and Sunday. It is preferable to choose an agent with a local office, so you can visit should the need arise.

Keep tidy

Having your home on the market is hard work.

Your property should always look like a showhome and be ready to be viewed at a moment’s notice – maybe when you are out at work or away for the weekend. Remember, the easier you make it for the agent, the easier you make their job, the more likely it is they will favour your property to show potential buyers.

Have paperwork ready

Buying and selling a property at the same time involves an enormous amount of paperwork. Once you have listed your home for sale, you should engage a solicitor and complete all of the information pack so they can be prepared for when an offer is accepted. This will give you time to focus on the selling paperwork.

If you are selling a leasehold flat, there will be questions from the would-be buyers’ solicitor, so make sure you know who can answer them on the freeholder’s behalf.

Make sure you keep track of important dates, for example when your mortgage offer expires, as the process is likely to take longer than you expect, and you need to be aware of deadlines. Most property transactions take about 12 to 16 weeks, but 20-plus weeks is not uncommon.

Be assertive

Because of the cumbersome nature of a property chain and all the parties to it, you will need to be assertive to make sure things get done in a reasonable time period. You should call the estate agent selling your home weekly to check on the progress and get updates. Email your solicitor at least every fortnight to make sure any paperwork you have completed has been received and to understand any outstanding matters.

Always make a note as to what items which people are waiting for and who you must contact to make the next stage happen. A chain can only go as fast as the slowest link.

Having a good relationship with your estate agent will pay dividends because they can help pinpoint which property in the chain is causing a hold-up and call the agent responsible to get help.

Remember an agent only gets paid when a property is sold – it is in their best interests for things to be wrapped up as quickly as possible.

Buckle up for the ride

Buying and selling a property in a chain is like a rollercoaster ride: it is a journey with many starts, stops, silences and panic.

The process could be fraught at times, but holding your temper – and your tongue – is really important, along with picking your battles. It can be very trying to not get too emotional, but the most important thing is to focus on the end result and the best way to achieve it.

If in doubt, make a list and ask your estate agent and/or solicitor for help – they will have experience in dealing with most problems.

To complete the sale you all need to agree on a date. This will need to be long enough in the future for all parties to have completed their conveyancing. It is good to have a date in mind, but with so many people involved, you will need to be flexible. The date could change if bits of the process take longer than anticipated, so do not book anything on the basis of the original plan.

If you find yourself in the position where your buyer wants to knock money off, it’s tempting to ask your seller for a discount. However, it is important to understand why your buyer is asking for money off. Your buyer may have a valid reason that doesn’t apply to your ongoing property purchase, so it is important to separate the two.

Remain objective

Unless you are dealing directly with a vendor or your buyers, you will only get the estate agents’ versions of events. This is why you need a good solicitor to cut through the chaff.

It is best to choose an independent solicitor who has been recommended by friends or family. Given the number of issues that can crop up when buying and selling a property, you need somebody whom you can trust and who can take personal calls and reply personally to your emails.

Moving home regularly tops the charts as one of the most stressful things in life. Try to remain objective and remember: many other people are involved in the chain, and they all want the same thing as you (even if at times it doesn’t feel like it).

Always remember your goal. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Scream in a pillow, if it helps. But, above all else, stay cool – no matter how hot your head gets.