Buying a property is one of the most exciting things we'll ever do. Unfortunately though, the property world has a lot of its own language. This can make for a steep learning curve, especially if it's your first time buying a house.
In this article we'll shine a light on one of those terms.
What does "no onward chain" mean when you're buying a house?
If a property is listed as "no onward chain" or "chain-free" it means the seller already has somewhere else to live. This means they do not need to buy another house before they can sell to you. Because you won't need to wait on any other transactions, you'll be able to complete your purchase much more quickly.
In this article we'll cover:
- The pros and cons of buying a house with no onward chain,
- Examples of "chain-free" properties,
- How quickly you can buy a house with no onward chain,
- And how to find houses with no onward chain.
We'll end with a bit of advice on how to avoid chains if you're also selling a property, and other useful resources.
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1. Pros and Cons of buying a chain-free house
House chains develop when a home seller is also relying on the purchase of their next property before they can move. A chain of linked house purchases then develops, where each transaction relies on the success of every other transaction in the chain.
Chains have two main downsides:
- They'll delay your home move (sometimes by months).
- They mean your house sale's more likely to fall through - because you're dependent on all the others.
1.1 Advantages of buying a chain-free house
Buying a chain-free house means you'll avoid the issues associated with house chains. This means you'll be able to buy the property you want much more quickly. And because you aren't dependent on other sales, you'll also improve the chances of your sale actually going through.
So chain-free properties are highly desirable. After all, you don't want to wait around for months while the seller sorts their onward purchase.
But what are the downsides of buying a house with no onward chain?
1.2 Disadvantages of buying a chain-free house
There are no real drawbacks of buying a chain free house. You just save a lot of potential home-moving issues. However, if you were to limit you search solely to chain-free properties, the drawback would be that you'd have a lot less choice. This is because so many houses have some sort of chain attached.
2. Examples of chain-free properties
So chains emerge when a seller is relying on the purchase of their next home before they can move. It seems like everyone should be in that position though! After all, we've all got to live somewhere.
But here are some examples of properties with no onward chain:
- Unwanted investment properties. Imagine a landlord sells a buy-to-let property they own. The investor already lives elsewhere, so the sale won't rely on them making another purchase and will therefore have no chain.
- Inherited properties. If the owner of the property has passed away and their descendants are selling an inherited property, it will usually be chain-free.
- Second homes. If someone's lucky enough to own two properties and decides to sell one, they'll be able to sell it with no onward chain, and simply move into their other property.
- Moving into care. As we age, moving into a care home is often a natural progression. The property is then often sold with no onward chain.
- Moving into a rented property. Many sellers are moving off the housing ladder altogether, and moving into a rented property instead. Because there isn't another property they need to buy, they'll be able to sell theirs with no onward chain. (By the way, if you're looking for a chain-free house sale then moving into a rental property for a few months before buying your next home is actually a great way of breaking the housing chain).
So properties can have no onward chain for all sorts of reasons.
As we've discussed, the really appealing them about them is how much faster a chain-free purchase can happen. In the next section we'll take about timeframes in more detail.
3. How quickly can you buy a house with no onward chain?
Buying a house with no onward chain can be done in around 3-4 months on average, from the time you start looking. This is only an average though, and can be much longer. It's certainly much faster than buying a house tied up in a lengthy chain though!
Let's take a quick look at this example to really paint the picture:
- Imagine you're a chain-free buyer and you want to buy a house.
- Let's imagine it takes you around 8 weeks to find the place you want to buy and get an offer accepted. Fortunately for you, the property has no onward chain!
- It then another 8 weeks to get your mortgage in place and for the solicitors to do their part.
- This means it takes you a total of 16 weeks between starting your house hunt, and finally moving in. (These numbers are pretty realistic based on my experience, and on some of the leading studies on the time to move).
Here's what your move would look like:
Now let's add a simple chain into the mix:
- Imagine the property you're buying does have an onward chain this time. The people you're buying from start their search when they agree the sale to you.
- It takes them 8 weeks to find their next property.
- When they agree their purchase, the people they're buying from put an offer in on a property they've had their eyes on.
- Unfortunately, that sale falls through after 4 weeks.
- This means everyone in the chain needs to wait another 8 weeks for them to find the next place they want, and then another 8 weeks to complete the legal work.
This is still a relatively simple chain, with only one setback... But look how much longer it takes!
Obviously the timeframes here aren't always fixed at 8 weeks - that's just an average. But I've seen things take longer, and I've certainly seen much more complicated house chains than this example.
Hopefully this helps illustrate how much faster it can be to buy a house with no onward chain!
But if chain-free purchases are so much faster, where can you find chain-free properties for sale?
4. How to find chain-free houses for sale
There are a few of ways I'd suggest for finding chain-free properties. Unfortunately though, all come with that big compromise I outlined earlier: If you completely limit your property search to houses with no onward chain, you'll have far less choice.
This is why I'd personally suggest not worrying about searching for chain-free properties. Sure, being stuck in a chain for a few extra months is a headache if that happens. But you'll spend years in that property - so in my opinion it's worth doing everything you can to get the right one. Even if it means a slightly longer wait and a couple of extra headaches.
Nevertheless, here are some handy tips I can share for finding chain-free houses for sale.
Tip #1. Ask your estate agent
The best place to start is by speaking with your estate agent.
They're on the front line all day, every day, and know all the new properties coming on their books.
They may be able to direct you towards new chain-free properties before they even hit the wider market.
Tip #2. Search for properties on other websites
Rightmove and Zoopla are the best portals to find your next home. But most estate agents list all their properties on their own website too.
Interestingly, some of these websites actually give you more home-hunting options than Rightmove or Zoopla do.
For example, check out this screenshot of a search I made on your-move.co.uk: They give you an option to filter the results to show chain-free houses only.
I suggest googling "Chain free houses for sale [your area]" to try and find local estate agent websites that provide this functionality.
Tip #3. Use your browser's search function
Unfortunately, it can be really difficult looking for properties on estate agent websites. They only have a small portion of the properties available, they're not all as user friendly as Rightmove, and many aren't kept up to date with the latest properties.
Thankfully, there is kind-of a way you can search Rightmove for chain-free houses.
- Go to Rightmove and search the area you're looking in.
- When you get to the results page, press "Control + F" on your keyboard ("Command + F" for mac users). (If you're using an iPhone, follow the instructions in this article to use the search functionality. Android phones should provide a similar feature).
- Type in "chain" and hit enter.
This will highlight every use of the word "chain" on the page. Why is this helpful? Because estate agents will often add something to the description to highlight chain-free properties.
Here's an example:
Unfortunately this won't identify every chain-free house, as the agent might not have placed "chain-free" or "no onward chain" at the start of the description. But it's certainly a start.
Tip #4. Buy a house at auction
If you're really keen for a house with no chain, auctions could be a great option for you.
Properties being sold at auction are almost always going to be chain-free. This is because auction sales happen to very strict deadlines. This makes them difficult to coordinate with a chain - hence they'll almost always be chain-free.
Buying at auction also gives you the chance of buying a property at a discounted price.
Just be aware that auctions attract more than their fair share of "problem properties" too. (For example, properties with subsidence or other structural issues). This means you need to be on the ball when it comes to your pre-auction due diligence.
Check out these couple of articles to learn more about buying at auction:
- Should First Time Buyers Buy At Auction? (My Advice)
- Want To Buy At Auction? 12 Crucial Pros & Cons to Consider First
5. Even chain-free purchases can fall through
Unfortunately, even if you do manage to find a home with no onward chain and your offer's accepted, you're still not in the clear.
According to the findings in our recent home sale fall-through survey, even when you take out chain-related issues, 24% of home sales still fall through.
5.1 What if your own sale falls through?
You may have found the perfect chain-free home to buy, but what if your own sale falls through?
For some sellers, having a house buying company as a back-up option can be a really good idea. Genuine companies can make you a formal offer within 24 hours, and buy your house in as little as 1-2 weeks.
It comes with a compromise on the price, and this means the service isn't for everyone. But it can be perfect for patching up a broken chain, and making sure you secure the house you want.
I designed a short quiz you can use to see if a house buying company might be the right option for you:
5.2 Fall-through FAQs
Here are some other articles we've written about your house purchase falling through. We've answered questions about solicitor fees, mortgages, and lots more.
- What happens to your mortgage offer if your sale falls through?
- Do solicitors charge if a house sale falls through?
- Why do so many house sales fall through?
I'll end this article the same way I opened it: Buying a house is one of the most exciting stages of our lives. I always suggest being prepared for bumps and setbacks along the way, because they'll almost certainly happen. This will hopefully make the journey a little more bearable.
But as we've learned, setbacks can be minimised if you're lucky enough to be buying a house with no onward chain!
By Matthew Cooper, Co-Founder of Home Selling Expert