The power of the chain-free buyer

Chain-free buyers are becoming an increasingly potent force in the property market, as stock levels continue to slide. They are posing stiff competition to other purchasers and fast becoming the top choice of sellers.

Since the middle of the year, buyers who are in a chain have increasingly found themselves coming up against chain-free buyers.  This latter group tends to include first-time buyers and investors who are house hunting without having a home to sell. In September 2021, 65% of buyers in a chain faced a counteroffer from a chain-free buyer, up from 57% in January this year and 52% in September 2020.

Regionally, buyers in Scotland are most likely to face competition from chain-free buyers, with 78% of purchasers in chains here coming up against those with no property to sell. It should be noted, however, that the Scottish process for buying and selling properties means there are fewer chains in the market generally.

In London, 67% of buyers in a chain have come up against a chain-free buyer when trying to purchase a property this year, while in Yorkshire & Humber and in the North West of England, the figures are 64% and 62% respectively. Purchasers in the South East are least likely to come up against a chain-free buyer – here, 53% of buyers face competition from those with nothing to sell.

With a severe shortage of properties for sale – there are a third fewer homes coming onto the market currently than there were last year – sellers are increasingly choosing chain-free buyers over those in chains. Last month, only 34% of buyers in a chain had an offer accepted over someone without a home to sell, down from 40% in September 2020. By contrast, in April 2020, when the housing market was in the grip of the first coronavirus lockdown, 52% of vendors chose a buyer in a chain over one not in a chain, although it is important to point out that transactions that month fell to a record low.

Right now, vendors in the North East of England, one of the countries weakest markets, are most likely to sell to someone in a chain – this year, half of the offers accepted by sellers were from buyers in chains. At the other end of the scale is London, where only 35% of sellers this year have chosen a buyer in a chain over someone without a property to sell.

The shortage of stock means chains have become increasingly difficult and more time consuming to complete. Many sellers are looking to avoid situations where someone further up or down the chain struggles to find their next purchase while everyone else looking to move waits for them.

With sales that are chain dependant taking longer to complete, those that can afford it, have been breaking the chain. Refunds of the 3% stamp duty surcharge have steadily picked up as those who can afford to purchase before selling their own home have increasingly chosen to do so. This year close to 45% of receipts generated by the 3% surcharge have been refunded to buyers. This figure seems set to continue rising until stock levels start to stabilise.