I’m in a chain, how can I speed up my purchase?

Q: I’ve been under offer on a flat for two months now and the seller still hasn’t found somewhere to buy. What can I do?

A: We’ve noticed that chain purchases are becoming a lot more common as sellers try to avoid having to pay extra stamp duty (SDLT) which is incurred when you own multiple properties. A chain brings greater complexity to a purchase as it means your seller is trying to tie in the sale of their existing property with the purchase of their onward property.

In your case, your seller has committed to selling to you but hasn’t found an onward purchase. When stuck in a chain, there is an element of being patient if your vendor was upfront about the situation when you agreed the purchase. However, every buyer’s patience does wear thin and there is only so long they will wait.

My advice to you is to hold tight for a reasonable period of time to give your seller sufficient opportunity to find an onward purchase. During which, it is absolutely fair for you to expect regular updates on your seller’s search. Any seller who isn’t feeding back a lot of positive information about how many viewings they’re doing each weekend, for example, possibly isn’t that motivated or taking seriously the fact that you could lose interest and move on.

If you get the sense that your seller is genuinely proactively looking, you could press ahead with the purchase to the point of exchange, which is when the purchase becomes legally binding. Once you’re ready to exchange, you can start to put pressure on and once you’re that close, some sellers will become a lot more motivated. Making a strict ultimatum to them over timings may do the trick. Bear in mind, however, that you will have incurred legal and survey fees so if the purchase doesn’t go ahead, you will have lost them.

If you are flexible with timings, one suggestion you could make to the seller is to exchange contracts with a long stop completion which can be brought forward by a mutual agreement. The long stop date could be, for example, six months from the date of exchange. This means that you’ve exchanged and the purchase is legally binding, but it would give the seller another six months to find and complete on a new property. If they do so sooner, the completion date of your purchase could be moved forward.

Alternatively, we recently had a client where the seller hadn’t found new a property so we agreed that our buyer would exchange and complete – locking in his purchase – and then rent the property back to the existing owners for a period of time to allow them to find something else.

The final option is to set a firm ultimatum on time scales. The estate agent should help to move the purchase along, as will a proactive solicitor, so you could ask them to pass on the ultimatum on your behalf as it will come across as less personal.

While all of the above is happening, definitely keep looking at the market to see if there are any alternative properties which might be better. Until you’ve exchanged contracts, you can change your mind about the property so it’s sensible to keep informed on your alternative options, or lack of them, until the last minute. This will put the property you’re buying into context and will reassure you whether it’s worth holding out for or not.

If you have a question you’d like Jo to answer please email Jo.eccles@eccord.com or tweet her @joeccles.