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What's the average property chain length in the UK?

Troy Stevens 14 April 2022

When it comes to home buying, the wheels of progress don't always turn as quickly as we'd like. But can you blame it all on a slow solicitor? 

Before you fire off another angry email, let's meet the real culprit behind all those mysterious delays – the chain. 

What is a property chain?

A chain is a sequence of buyers and sellers linked together through their property transactions. 

These people share a common goal – moving from one property to the next. However, they also share a common dilemma – they generally cannot move without selling their property first.

What causes a property chain?

Life isn't a game of Monopoly, and few of us have the ready cash to snap up houses as we fancy. Instead, most people must wait until they have the funds released from their current place before they can put down a deposit or buy a new house.

This means your property sale is essentially in a big queue – and can only move forward if the transactions further up and down the line are completed, and the funds' everybody needs to secure their next place are released.

What does 'no onward chain' mean?

The phrase 'no onward chain' is music to the ears of any home seller.

'No onward chain' applies when a buyer is ready to buy straight away and doesn't need to sell their property first. This person is considered the 'start' of the chain. 

Perhaps they have a healthy bank balance and can afford to buy an extra property, or maybe they have already sold their previous place and live in rented accommodation, giving them greater freedom and a shorter notice period. 

First-time buyers are considered chain-free buyers, as they don't have to sell a property before they can move. Not that they're immune from issues arising from property chains - 49% of first-time buyers in the UK have experienced a fall-through. 

How long is the average property chain?

The average property chain length in the UK is impossible to pinpoint. What we do know, however, is that it can take around six months to move house, which is a result of the delays which are so common with property chains. 

What problems does a property chain cause?

The main issue caused by a property chain is delays. 

Think about it – if there's a week-long administrative delay at each stage in a chain of twenty buyers, that culminates in an almost six-month delay for everyone.

As well as delays, there are also broken links to contend with.

If a house sale falls through (as 1 in 4 in the UK will), this can cause other sales in the chain to fail, too. This is because people rely on the buyer to release funds so that they can secure their dream home. 

How can I avoid a property chain?

You usually can't. The only thing you can do is to try to select a chain-free buyer if possible. This is obviously easier if your property is in high demand, and you can pick and choose among your buyers. If your property is less 'hot', you usually have no choice but to be involved in a chain – but it might be worth holding out an extra week or two to see if any other offers roll in – one might be from that elusive chain-free buyer. 

Home buyers' protection insurance is one way to protect your property purchase against the failures that are so common when you're at the mercy of a long chain. 

With this cover, you can protect the upfront costs you've already spent on your house purchase should your transaction be in the 1 in 4 that fail. These costs include things like solicitor's fees, conveyancer's fees – even accommodation costs for your family while you're between properties.

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