One of the pitfalls when buying a house-and such an easy mistake to make-is the habit of mentally moving in before contracts have been exchanged.

It makes it especially painful when you’ve found the house of your dreams and a buyer for your old home, but at the last minute, your housing chain, a sequence of buyers and sellers simultaneously involved in linked property transactions, collapses. Being trapped in a chain might be hard to bear, but with 85% of property transactions caught in such a system, you are not the only one shackled to a group of strangers all trying to move house, particularly in the colder property market. If one transaction falls through or is delayed, the chain breaks, with mental and financial torment suffered up and down the line as a result.

One in three property transactions in England and Wales fall through, according to Government figures, and 36% of us fear getting stuck in a chain more than any other aspect of house moving. So it is not surprising that many are turning to imaginative solutions to escape being fettered and make certain our sale goes through smoothly.

Impasses can occur for a number of reasons, including missed paperwork deadlines, finance falling through and a buyer withdrawing an offer. A common logjam is the structural survey, often carried out late in the house-buying process, revealing some nasty problem that leads to the buyer lowering his offer.

Steps can be taken to stop chains unravelling. In a tighter market, money talks, points out property-search agent Robert Bailey from Robert Bailey Property. ‘Find out where the problem lies and see if you can resolve it, by accepting a bit less for your property or negotiating down the chain. If everyone drops their price by five to 10%, it can hold the chain together.’

The latest solution is not for the fainthearted, as it involves someone at the top of the chain buying the person’s home at the bottom, thus untangling the snarl-up. Lulu Egerton from Strutt & Parker, Chelsea, helped clinch such a deal with parents buying a f lat in Onslow Gardens to free a house for their son and daughter-in-law. ‘They were going to buy something smaller for themselves in three years, so they simply did it earlier.’

Another option is to houseswap. Tim Waring, from Knight Frank in Harrogate, Yorkshire, is helping a couple exchange a big country house for a smaller house in town. ‘We’re just agreeing the price differential. It’s about thinking outside the box and being prepared to compromise.’

Many a sale floats in property limbo as someone in the chain quibbles over leaving the dishwasher behind, or in one macabre instance, insists on digging up the pet cemetery in her garden and relocating it to temporary rented accommodation.

Tom Tangney from Knight Frank’s Kensington office was the unlucky agent who had to finesse the reburial of Fido and friends to avoid a break in the chain. ‘The landlord was fine about it as long as she put everything right again when she left.’ He also had to write a side agreement ensuring Paula Yates would pay to reinstall a bath she wantedto take away (as her daughter, Tiger-Lily, was born there).

The only way to break out is for an experienced agent to take over the handling of the sale from the ‘weak link’ agent in the chain, Ed Mead from Douglas and Gordon, Chelsea, maintains. ‘We can scare the living daylights out of a weaker colleague and make the deal happen.’ And if there’s a serious dispute over some insignificant item, ‘a good agent will put his hand in his pocket and pay £500 for a new table’.

HOW TO AVOID CHAINS

* ‘In this market, don’t take your house off the market until the deal is done.’ Phil Spencer, Garrington Property Search

* ‘Consider a delayed completion, or renting your house to the buyer for a period.’ Charlie Comber, Hayman-Joyce, North Cotswolds

* ‘A buyer can pay a premium to the seller to rent. Some buyers have even paid our fees to find a new house for the seller.’ Edward Sugden, Property Vision