Exclusivity grants a bidder sole rights to deal with Villa's American owner Randy Lerner (pic)for up to six weeks.
According to BBC Sport earlier this week, former Chelsea executive Smith has not managed to land exclusivity.
The identity of the new front-runner has been kept a close secret.
Both parties have signed non-disclosure agreements.
Villa finished 17th in the Premier League this season and were beaten 4-0 by Arsenal in the FA Cup final.
Exclusivity allows only the bidding party to submit a formal bid after due diligence. If Lerner is happy with the amount offered, then the bidder has up to six weeks to complete the deal.
It means the club could now be sold before the start of the new Premier League season.
Until that six-week period is over, no other interested party can get involved.
Smith, who offered around £150m, could come back into the running if the exclusivity period passes without a bid being accepted by Lerner.
The American was seeking a sale price of £200m when he put Villa up for sale a year ago.
Lerner bought Villa for £55m in September 2006 and his financial outlay on the club is estimated at around £300m.an.
The potential sale hasn't prevented Villa boss Tim Sherwood looking to bolster his squad.
They are reportedly closing in on the signature of Micah Richards after the defender was allowed to leave Manchester City as a free agent.
The England right-back, who spent last season on loan with Serie A club Fiorentina, is a free agent after leaving the Etihad Stadium.
It is understood Villa have offered the 26-year-old an opportunity to revive his career in the Premier League and have moved ahead of fellow suitors Newcastle in the chase for the player.
After conceding 57 league goals during the 2014-15 season - a campaign which saw them escape relegation by only three points signing a defender is a top priority.