No Onward Chain – What Does it Mean?

If you’re buying a house, chances are you’ve seen houses advertised as having no onward chain.

28th May, 2022

Updated 30/08/2023

If you’re buying a house, chances are you’ve seen houses advertised as having no onward chain. Unless you’re an experienced property buyer, or perhaps work in the sector, it’s unlikely that you’ll know what this means. In this article we break down everything you need to know about houses with no onward chain.

We’ll cover the definition of a property chain, discuss what no onward chain means, and talk about some of the reasons that properties are sold as no onward chain. Then we’ll outline the benefits of property sold as no onward chain and the situations in which a sale could fall through. Finally we’ll discuss the differences between no onward chain and no chain, and we’ll tell you how you can become chain free.

If you’re looking for something specific or you’re short on time, use the menu below to navigate through the article quickly. Otherwise, read on for an entire overview of what it means to buy a property with no onward chain.


What is a Property Chain? 

We tell you everything you need to know about property chains elsewhere in our blog, but we’ll give you a quick overview now. A property chain is composed of a number of buyers and sellers, and exists when each party in the chain is dependent on another transaction. As an example, a property chain could be composed of three parties. Let’s call them Mr A, Mrs B and Ms C. 

Let’s imagine that Ms C is selling her house to Mrs B, and Mrs B is selling her house to A. Mrs B needs the funds from her house sale in order to purchase the house from Ms C. If for any reason Mr A is unable to purchase the property from Mrs B (perhaps because of a change of heart or circumstances) it will mean that Mrs B is also unable to purchase the property from Ms C. This is what is known as a ‘chain break’. It occurs when one ‘link’ in the chain has their sale fall through, which then impacts all other parties involved. 

In this example we discussed a property chain that included only three buyers or sellers. However, it’s not uncommon for chains to reach as many as eight buyers or sellers. When a chain becomes this large there are a lot of moving parts. It’s easy to understand how a chain can break and why it’s so common. 

But just how common is it for a chain to break? There aren’t any detailed statistics on how likely chains are to collapse based on their length. However, we know from government statistics that one in three property transactions falls through. Therefore we can extrapolate the probability of chain failure based on length, since a chain is just a series of linked transactions. You can see this likelihood in the chart below. 


No onward chain collapse


What does No Onward Chain mean? 

No onward chain (also known as an ‘upward chain’) means that the seller of the property isn’t purchasing another property using the funds from the sale. This means that the property is ready to be sold (and usually moved into) straight away. This is good news for prospective buyers who want to move quickly once their own sale is completed. 

In the example above we talked about how Mrs B needed to sell her house in order to buy Mr A’s house. The chain broke because she wasn’t able to sell to Mrs C. The chain could also break if she was unable to buy Mr A’s house for any reason. This is because she wouldn’t have been able to move out of her house, and therefore Mrs C wouldn’t be able to move in. In this scenario, Mrs B has what’s known as an ‘onward chain’.

In short, having an onward chain can slow down the entire property chain and cause other sales to fall through if there are delays. There are a number of reasons that a property can be sold with no onward chain, we’ll go through some of the most common ones now. 


Reasons properties are sold with No Onward Chain

Estate agencies will want to advertise the fact that a property is sold with no onward chain. You’ll usually find this information in the estate agency brochures or marketing packs, as well as any online listings. Estate agents will usually mention the fact that a property is sold with no onward chain as it makes the property more desirable. 

There are many reasons why a property may be sold with no onward chain. We’ve listed some of the most popular ones here. 

Property with tenants in situ 

Selling a property with tenants in situ can be a tricky process. The properties typically appeal to a smaller pool of prospective buyers, so they take longer to sell. 

Tenanted property is usually sold by buy-to-let investors who are looking to offload some of their portfolio to free up capital. They won’t need to move out of the purchase to complete, so these properties don’t have an onward chain. 

Auction Property 

When you buy a property at a traditional auction a deposit is paid and contracts are exchanged immediately as soon as the hammer falls. The purchase then has 28 days to complete, at which point the buyer or seller can be in breach of the contract and incur charges and interest. 

This means that the existence of an onward chain is almost irrelevant. Sellers know that if they sell at auction they will have to move out of the property within a month. They will normally have locked down their onward plans and so these properties can be classed as having no onward chain. 

Repossessed Property 

When a house is being repossessed by a lender (usually a mortgage provider) they have a legal obligation to re-sell the property on the open market. The only legal duty that the lender has is to sell the property to the best buyer. The money from the repossession is then used to clear the debt on the mortgage and any other liabilities that the previous owner had. 

These properties have no onward chain. The money from a repossession sale is for lenders to recoup their debt, not purchase another property. 

Part-Exchanged Sales

When a house is part-exchanged with a property developer, the value of the house is offset against the seller’s purchase of (usually) a new build property. These properties are unlikely to be part of any property chain since the seller is the development company. They will use the proceeds from the sale to go back on the company’s balance sheet, rather than purchase another property. So the property sale won’t be delayed by an onward chain. 

Cash House Buyer Sales

Companies who buy your house for cash like SmoothSale typically resell the properties on the open market. They typically have enough cash to purchase further properties without requiring the cash from the resale. This means that there are rarely any delays with the sale related to a chain. Cash house buyers will want to dispose of the property as quickly as possible (providing the price is right). So for buyers looking to move in quickly it can be a great option. 

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Is No Onward Chain good? 

When a property has no onward chain it’s seen as a huge selling point. Having no onward chain has benefits for both buyers and sellers. For a buyer, the purchase of a property with no onward chain can be completed more quickly and with less risk than those that do have an onward chain. 

For sellers, the benefit of having no onward chain is that their property is more attractive to potential buyers who don’t want the risk and delays that are associated with being in a property chain. 

FAQs about No Onward Chain

Q: Can a property with no onward chain still be part of a property chain? A: Yes, a property with no onward chain can still be part of a property chain if the buyer has an onward chain.

Q: Does “No Onward Chain” mean the property is in better condition?
A: Not necessarily. The condition of the property is unrelated to the seller’s onward chain status.

Q: What happens if the seller finds a new property after the sale?
A: In such cases, the seller would typically rent a property temporarily until they complete the purchase of their new home.

Q: Can a property with no onward chain be more expensive?
A: While it’s not a direct correlation, properties with no onward chain might attract competitive offers, potentially influencing the final price.

Q: Are there legal differences in the process for properties with no onward chain?
A: The legal process remains similar, but the absence of an onward chain can simplify certain aspects of the transaction.

Q: How can buyers verify a seller’s onward chain status?
A: Buyers can ask their real estate agent to inquire about the seller’s onward chain status to ensure clarity before making an offer.

Benefits of no onward chain


Can a sale with No Onward Chain fall through? 

Yes. Whilst they are more secure than sales with an onward chain, all property sales can fall through. Some of the most common reasons that transactions like this fall through are: 

  • Gazumping. This can occur where a new buyer offers a higher price for the property than the existing buyer. This leads to the seller pulling out of the transaction and ultimately to chain collapse. 
  • Gazundering. The buyer of the property could gazunder the sale. Gazundering happens when the buyer drops the price, usually right before exchange. Sometimes the seller pulls out if they’re not happy with the new price. This causes the entire chain to collapse.  
  • Delays. As with any house sale, delays or obstructions caused by estate agents or solicitors can cause issues in the coordination of other transactions in the chain. 
  • Mortgage issues. The buyer could have their mortgage refused, either because of their financial situation or the property itself was down valued as a result of the mortgage survey. 
  • Change of circumstances. If anyone in the chain has a change of circumstances (or even just a change of heart) that prevents them from completing the purchase it can cause the chain to fall through. 
  • Survey Results. Buyers who conduct structural surveys may find important issues in the construction of the property that warrant a price reduction. Sometimes sellers are unwilling to accept the reduction, and so the purchase falls through. 


How to become a chain free buyer

Selling with no onward chain makes your property more attractive to buyers. Being a chain free buyer has a similar effect. Sellers will take your offers more seriously, and will likely be more inclined to accept your offer over one from a buyer that’s in a chain. For this reason it’s worthwhile putting your house on the market and trying to secure a sale before putting an offer on your next property. 

If you’re finding it hard to sell your house, need a quick sale, or just aren’t interested in the stress and hassle of selling your house on the open market. Consider selling your house to a cash house buyer like SmoothSale. We buy any house in any condition, and our service is free. We’ll even cover your legal costs. Why not get a no obligation cash offer for your property today, or for more information get in touch on 0800 368 8952.

Sell your house for cash to SmoothSale

Simply enter your details below to get a no-obligation cash offer for your house.


Sell your house for cash to SmoothSale

Simply enter your details below to get a no-obligation cash offer for your house.


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