In theory, any property deal could go through in a matter of days. They generally don’t, but the problem is not the process, it’s the people.

When you exchange contracts is the moment when you are committed to selling the property. (See ‘Exchange of contracts’ in the Selling Process chapter, next.) At that point, you can’t back out. If you are buying a new home, then it’s essential that you exchange contracts on your sale and purchase at exactly the same time.

Otherwise, there is the risk that you will end up owning two properties or no properties. If you exchanged contracts to sell your home but then your own sellers pulled out – perhaps because they have lost the property they are buying – you would be homeless. And if you exchanged contracts to buy your new home and then your own buyer pulled out, you would own two homes.

To avoid these risks, exchanges of contracts have to be simultaneous. If your seller is also buying a property and if your buyer is also selling a property, that means there are five people who have to exchange contracts instantaneously. Chains can be much longer than that. This means that everyone in the chain has to wait until the last link is ready.

So, if someone in the chain pulls out, the disappointed party has to find a new property or a new buyer. Sometimes, one of the parties is just slow, or it takes them longer than usual to get a mortgage. These are all things that can hold up the exchange of contracts.

The next sections show you what you can do to avoid delays on the two links in the chain you have some control over: your sale and your purchase.