Let’s face it, deciding to buy a home is one of the biggest decisions we ever make and buying a home is one of the biggest financial expenses we will ever make. and the decisions you make can be the difference between saving money and things costing you money. To make things easier for you, we have put together a simple step-by-step guide to buying a house so you can follow this process in order and not have to worry about what to do and when.
There are three parts to buying a house:
Top tip: When saving for a deposit and costs, work backwards. Decide when you want to buy, and work out how much you will need to save per year and month. From there, put a plan in place how you can achieve your target. Even cutting back on shop-bought coffee can make a difference to your savings!
The average time taken to purchase a property used to be around 3 months. In recent years, this has increased to around 5 months. Some purchases take even longer. In short, there is no set time it takes to purchase a house, because it depends on many factors including, the time taken for land registry searches, what comes back on the survey, and how many parties are in the sales chain.
If you are a first-time buyer buying a vacant property, the process could move pretty quickly. However, there are elements that may slow the process down. The length of the ‘sales chain’ is one of those factors.
For example, if you buy a house from someone who is buying a house from someone else who is emigrating, there are three parties involved in the chain. Things such as missed calls and emails, signatures missing off documents and general failings in communication can also slow the process down.
Whilst it is the job of the estate agent and solicitors to manage the process, you can help to speed things up but having regular contact with your solicitor, the estate agent and your lender to make sure everything is moving along smoothly.
Mortgages can seem overwhelming but it’s important that you are familiar with the technicalities of a mortgage before beginning the application process. Our guide to mortgages breaks down the different mortgage types available, but, breaking it down, a mortgage is a loan used to purchase a property. Usually, you will need to put down a minimum deposit of 5%, although not all lenders offer this.
When applying for a mortgage the lender will take account of your monthly income and financial commitments. This include loans, credit cards and things like childcare costs. The standard salary to mortgage ratio used by lenders is 4.5 times an annual salary. This means you can potentially borrow 4.5 times your annual salary (per person applying) as a mortgage, although some lenders will consider up to 6 times.
Top tip: Online tools for assessing affordability can give you an estimate as to what you can afford, but they do not take into account all debts etc and so are no a true reflection on affordability, do make sure you always take this into account when working out what monthly payments you can afford!
When you check your credit score, the ideal is to have a score of 620 or above when buying a house, although each lender has their own criteria to assess affordability too, and it is possible to get a mortgage with a lower credit score. You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion®.
Top tip: Don’t just pay attention to your script score, but your credit habits. For example, taking out a large loan just before making a mortgage application will show on your credit file and may be considered a red flag by lenders in terms of affordability.
The main things to consider when you decide to buy a property are:
Firstly, Is now the right time for you to buy a house for example, is it a job commitment or would you just like some more space? What are your timescales for moving? Do you have proof of consistent employment and sustainable earnings? If you are employed, you will need 3-6 months wage slips and if self-employed you will need your SA302 and at least 1 years proof of accounts for .
Do you have your deposit saved or know where the money is coming from? Have you paid off existing debts, where possible and have you reviewed your monthly outgoings and know what you can afford each month?
Have you written ‘wish list’ for viewing and Know what you want from a property and area and what you are willing to compromise on (please bear in mind that as your journey continues this list may change so be flexible)?
Typically, prices do go up and down, but generally always rise over time. Are you buying for the long term or do you plan to sell within a couple of years? Pay attention to the market and if you are worried about short-term changes in the market, such as price falls and interest rate rises, make sure you fully understand what it will mean for you and whether you are prepared to take the risk.
Top tip: When thinking about whether it is the right time to buy, consider all information available. Ideally, this would be when prices reach the bottom of a cycle, but this is virtually impossible to determine and if this is in, say 5 years, and you have paid out 5 more years worth of rent, is that really such a saving?
In most situations, if you already have a house, you will be selling and buying at the same time. The main benefits of selling your existing home first before buying another are that you will be in a position to act fast, will be more likely to get an offer accepted than someone who hasn’t sold, and the process is likely to move faster as there will be fewer people in the chain. For more information on this, read our guide covering the process to selling a house
However, don’t forget to factor in additional costs that you will need to think about other than the typical costs of selling your home, such as potential double removal costs, storage and rent if you need somewhere to live in between moving from one property to another.
Timescales to factor in:
Top tip: Get quotes, work our your costs and make a note of them early on so you have an idea of exactly what things will cost you and what companies you want to use.
One thing to remember when buying a house is that the level of borrowing you qualify to afford (4.5 times your salary), may not match the monthly payments you are easily able to pay. Keep an eye on mortgage interest rates and work out what is an affordable amount for you to borrow and repay each month. There are simple mortgage repayment calculators available online and lots of lenders publish their current rates on their websites. Just because you can get approved for £300,000 doesn’t mean you can easily afford the repayment of £1,500.
Top tip: Lenders will also have red flags such as regular gambling, debts higher than income, payday loans, maximum spent on credit cards with minimum payment being made. Look to avoid these where possible, when applying for a mortgage.
Realistically, you are not going to save a deposit overnight. The key to saving consistently is to break the total amount needed done over number of years and months to see how much you need to save each month. You can then plan how to get there. The good news is that there are initiatives you can access as a first-time buyer to help you get onto the property ladder.
The Government’s Help to Buy Scheme is no longer available to first-time buyer purchasing a new build property. It ended in March 2023. The scheme allowed buyers to put down a 5% deposit and the Government fund 20% in the form of a loan to you. This was interest free for 5 years and was repaid as a percentage of the market value when the property was sold.
There are, however, other schemes you can consider, such as a Lifetime ISA. You can open a Lifetime ISA if you are between 18 and 39 years old. The main benefit is that you get a Government bonus of 25% or up to £1,000 per year. You can put in up to £4,000 per year, any growth is tax free, you get an extra £1 for every £4 you save and as long as you open the account by age 39, you can still get the Government bonus until age 50.
After 12 months from the first payment, you can use the money to make an eligible house purchase for a property worth up to £450,000. Bear in mind the money must be used for completion purposes and cannot be used on additional costs such as solicitors. There are also penalties for withdrawals outside the criteria.
Top tip: When saving is to separate your savings at the start of the month and not the end. This will discourage you from making unnecessary purchase during the month.
You don’t have to use the mortgage broker suggested by the estate agent, or any broker. You can go directly to a lender to request a mortgage application, but remember that an independent mortgage broker has access to the whole market of products available and may be able to find you a better deal. By talking your plans through with an advisor, you will be able to understand the interest rates available, what options are available to you and fully understand your affordability, including any financial commitments. To book a free call with a certified broker visit our partner page.
A mortgage broker will also manage the application process for you, making sure all documentation is authorised and regulated to the point of a mortgage offer being made.
Top tip: Some brokers charge a fee and others do not. Whether you choose a free broker or not, do not feel pressured into going with the one the estate agent suggests and make sure whoever you choose specialises in mortgages of the type you are looking to get.
To have the best chance of securing your dream home, you should be mortgage ready before starting your search. are that you will be in a stronger position to get an offer accepted and your mortgage application is likely to go through quicker. Before finding a property you will apply for a mortgage agreement in principle with a mortgage lender. The mortgage agreement in principle, acts as proof that you can afford the property you want to buy.
This can be applied for directly or through a broker. Remember that the mortgage decision in principle, is just a guide of affordability and once you have found a property a full mortgage application will need to take place with credit searches once you find a property.
Top tip: When submitting a mortgage application is it wise to register onto the electoral roll where you live and make sure bills are registered to where you live. This proves to the lender you are who you say you are.
Once you know your budget, you are ready to start viewing and now you need to know what you are looking, how to choose a location and and how to secure your home.
Writing down your wish list, size of the garden, how many bedrooms, if you need a particular school nearby and start to look at areas and the prices of different properties in that area. Remember that this is a wish list and should be reviewed after each viewing. It is vital to be flexible on the right things, especially in a hot market.
Once you decide on an area, look on Rightmove at previous sales in the last 2 years and up to 10 years. Look at what similar properties have sold for and how much growth the area has experienced over time.
Also, look at the Local Authority website for development plans in surrounding areas. If a lot of investment is due in an area which will improve employment, transport links etc then this may be an up and coming area to consider.
Top tip: Visit the area and surrounding areas at multiple times of day and speak to people who know the area for recommendation of streets.
So you have found a property and have a viewing booked. It is important to know as much as you can before you attend the viewing, so you are in a position to act fast if you wish to make an offer. Once you find a property you like, try using a Chrome browser to install the add-on property log. This allows you to look at price adjustments on Rightmove so you can see what the property has been listed for and if there have been any price reductions.
Before you make an offer, it is wise to get quotes from solicitors. When choosing a solicitor, you do not need to go with the one recommended by the agent. You are within your right to ask for a quote and a breakdown of what is provided for the fee. Ensure all costs are included and there won’t be hidden costs at the end. Also, the cheapest quote is not always the best, make sure you check out reviews and recommendations.
Top tip: Once you have a solicitor in mind and they have your details, it is easy to appoint them once you find a property. This is one piece of information that you will need for the property to be marked Sold Subject to Contract so it is in your interest to be in a position to act fast and know which solicitor you are going to use.
The first place every first-time buyer heads to when looking for a property is Rightmove. This is a great tool for searching for a property, however, in a lot of cases, houses will sell even before they hit Rightmove.
There are a number of ways you can improve your position as a buyer.
Make sure you keep your favourite properties in your saved items (don’t delete them!) and you will see if the sale falls through as the SSTC label will be removed.
When searching on Rightmove is to set the search as ‘anytime’ and turn off the ‘SSTC’ button. This will allow you to see all properties that have come back on the market, as properties that have been listed within 14 weeks are not allowed by Rightmove to be published as new listings.
Connect with smaller estate agents as they may not use the big portals like Rightmove, so will be advertising to a smaller volume of people.
Auctions are another place to buy, but you will need to bear in mind there are additional fees and if buying in this way it is vital to have a solicitor go over the legal pack as once you commit to the purchase, you cannot pull out once you agree to buy.
Top tip: When liaising with estate agents, remember, the agent is being paid by the seller and ultimately works for them so as much as you can build a good relationship, they have a responsibility to act for the seller.
Viewing a house for the first time can be overwhelming, and viewings are often only around ten minutes long. As well as asking the right questions when buying a house, there are also key things to look out for on viewings. It is always worth planning well ahead of the viewing and taking a checklist.
Things to look for outside:
Things to look for inside:
Top tip: Visit the property before the viewing to check out the outside condition, which saves you time on the day. Visiting at different times of day can also help you understand more about the local area, amenities and traffic patterns.
Now you are in the swing of getting viewings, it is important to review your wish list. You may think you haven’t found something suitable, but in fact you could compromise on some things or you may have been beaten to each sale by another buyer.
You can review your property viewings on a simple piece of paper or spreadsheet, but always document your review of each property. It will help you later. For example, you may rule out one property and in 3 months, view a similar property. Looking back at your thoughts on the first property and why it was ruled out can help you to make an informed decision on the second one.
Top tip: There are a number of things you might be prepared to compromise on and some you absolutely wouldn’t. The important thing to consider is how changeable are those issues and at what cost? Structural issues are often costly and stressful to rectify, whereas gaining a bedroom can often be achieved with a change in layout or loft conversion (with cost factored in). A run down property in a quiet cul-de-sac, in time, could be transformed to tick the boxes on your wish list, but a beautiful house on a busy main road will always be on that main road.
When making an offer always ask the estate agent about the buying process before viewing. For example, a best and final process means that you would put your offer in, along with other buyers and then will be asked to submit a final, usually higher bid, before the seller decides which bid to accept. Some sales will follow a ‘best and final’ offer process and others won’t.
This helps you to understand where you may want to position your offer. Also ask if there have been any other offers. While the agent won’t tell you the value of the offer, they should let you know if there have been any.
When making an offer, make sure you are confident in your proposal. One thing you cannot change is what someone else offers, so if your offer is even £1000 too low and the seller chooses someone else, remember it is out of your control.
What you can do is build a good relationship with the estate agents, and make your position known and your strengths, such as being a first-time buyer. For example, a larger deposit may influence the seller in your favour, because in the event of a down valuation you will be in a stronger position to bridge the gap.
Top tip: Follow up with estate agents fro time to time on properties that you may have lost out on. Roughly 30% of house sales fall through and if you are fresh in the agent’s mind, you have a better chance of being considered first if the property goes back on the market.
The next part of getting mortgage ready is understanding what you need to do to get your mortgage offer in place. As part of the mortgage application process you will need documentation so it is worth having this ready.
If you are employed you will need 3 months payslips and 3 months bank statements (some lenders ask for 6). If self-employed you will need an SA302 and at least 1 years accounts (many lenders require 2 or 3 years) and proof of sustainable income. You will also need a valid passport or drivers license for ID.
Top tip: As soon as you have an offer accepted, make sure you submit your application. If you leave it and interest rates rise before you get your mortgage offer, it will cost you money. An application is valid for between three and six months.
The conveyancing process is the legal process that is undertaken when buying a home, involving the transfer of the title of that property. The title deeds are papers which outline the chain of ownership. Once the purchase is complete, it is normal for the title deeds for your property to be held by your conveyancer.
Once your offer is accepted, it’s time to instruct your convincer (solicitor) and book a survey. You should already have an idea of what conveyancer you want to use by this point. It is important that you ask the potential solicitor right questions prior to appointing them. Your conveyancer will want to know your details, the address of the property you are buying, the estate agent the property is listed with and your mortgage provider.
Top tip: Before you go ahead, double-check their caseload commitments because if they are over-stretched, this can influence how long it will take you to complete your sale. If you aren’t happy with the service you are receiving, you have the option to change conveyancer.
Once your application is going through, the lender will want to get a valuation on the property. Remember, the bank is only interested in protecting its investment should you default and they have to sell the property, so this valuation is an overall value and not a full condition survey.
In some cases a valuation may come in lower than the accepted offer. Down valuation happen for a number of reasons; surveyors may air on the side of caution due to interest rate rises and increased affordability pressures that may increase a borrower’s risk of defaulting. Other reasons may be that there are no similar properties in the area and it is difficult to find direct comparisons.
Top tip: Use the market knowledge you have to create a pack of similar properties, ideally within half a mile, outlining comparisons to the property you are buying. Although the valuer will have access to their own portals to gather information and may not influence their decision, it won’t hurt to provide some additional information. This also means that in the event of a down valuation, should you choose to appeal, you have supporting information readily available.
A survey is optional, but we would always advise getting one to inform you of any issues and potential issues with the property you are buying. An independent survey is your opportunity to ensure you won’t get any nasty surprises once you move in. A home survey shouldn’t be confused with the mortgage valuation. The lender valuation is to confirm the overall value of the property, so that in the event of the lender having to sell the property, they will get their money back. A condition survey goes into much more detail about the condition of the property and any issues that may have to be resolved. This allows you to consider what issues you are prepared to address and what you may wish to negotiate with the seller. For new build properties, you will need a snagging survey, rather than a home survey.
It is recommended to use a surveyor approved by RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered surveyors). RICS surveys (surveys could be another guide) fall under 3 categories:
Top tip: For all surveys, if the surveyor cannot reach a conclusion, a recommendation may be made for a further survey with a specialist in the field. This might include an asbestos survey or a full damp report. It is wise to factor in additional costs for this into your overall budget.
It is common to wonder how long a house purchase should take. The answer is how long is a piece of string, but you can take steps to avoid any unnecessary delays. We would advise to touch base with your solicitor and the estate agent regularly (they should be updating you on progress at regular intervals). You can also ask the estate agent if you can contact the seller directly and this can help to speed up the process, especially when minor obstacles get in the way, although this is not always needed. Your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor should be in regular contact with one another to progress the transaction.
Top tip: Ensure you have a direct contact for your conveyancer so if you need to deal with an issue or raise a query, it can be done so in an efficient way.
Exchange of contracts is one of the final parts of the conveyancing process and this means that you are nearly there and will agree a completion date soon (if you haven’t already done so)! Once you have exchanged contracts, neither the seller or yourself can legally pull out of the sale and it is likely that you will complete the purchase soon after. Once you have an approximate date for completion, you can start to plan the move.
Top tip: A common conception is that exchange and completion must take place at least a week apart some cases, but exchange and completion can actually take place on the same day in some cases.
Now you are ready to liaise with your solicitor to agree a completion date with the seller. At this point purchase any storage boxes required. Stay organised by using packing tips and checklists to pack efficiently and safely. You can make your own or, if you want them already done for you, take a look at our moving checklist, essentials checklist, cleaning checklist and address change checklist. If you need to re-direct mail, this can be done online via the post office, but there is a charge.
Top tip: When choosing a moving date it would be better to avoid peak times such as Friday afternoons.
It is well worth getting a few quotes for removals and choose a removals company who is a member of the National Guild of Removers and Storers. When getting quotes, remember to ask the company about their process for changing removal dates, just in case you run into some unexpected delays.
Top tip: It may be tempting to try and do a move yourself by hiring a van, but bear in mind how much furniture you have and how many trips this will take you before deciding to do this. A good removal company can massively reduce the stress of moving.
When you know your moving date, you can start to plan ahead and contact utilities companies, such as telephone, tv, broadband, gas and electric to tell them you are moving in. In some instances you will be able to book in installations in advance so you are not waiting several weeks once you move. Once you move in, you will need to take gas and electric meter readings and send them to the utility companies.
Top tip: There may be a wait time on installations such as broadband so if you work from home, it is vital to factor this in and book and installation well in advance and advise work that you are moving home.
When buying a house, you will need to have buildings insurance in place for the property. This is to protect you and the lender. Buildings insurance covers damage to your property, such as the walls, floors and roof, and it may also cover fixtures and fittings, such as kitchens and bathrooms.
Other types of insurance you can take out, but are optional are content insurance, which covers your belongings and life insurance, which provides a lump sum to pay off the mortgage in the event of your death. Critical illness cover and income protection work in a similar way.
Top tip: Once you have the property address you can use an online comparison site to get quotes on insurance so costs for this can be gathered in advance.
Before completion your conveyancer will request payment of your deposit, stamp duty land tax (land and buildings transaction tax in Scotland) and any fees. They will then send the deposit to the lender and complete the sale on the agreed date.
0-250k = 0, £250,001-£925k = 5%, £925,001-£1,500,000 = 10%, £1,500,001+ = 12%
Property price up to £625k: £0-£425k = 0, £425,001-£625k = 5%
Property price above £625k: home-mover rules apply and no relief can be claimed.
In Scotland the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax Rate applies. Buyers don’t pay tax on the first £175,000.
In Wales, you will need to pay Land Transaction Tax on properties over £180,000.
This is the day that monies and title deeds are transferred between conveyancers. On the day of completion, the money is transferred and any deeds for the property are transferred between each side’s solicitor or conveyancer. Your solicitor/conveyancer will then register the transfer of ownership with the Land Registry within 30 days of completion.
Top tip: If you are a first-time buyer and are buying with a partner who has bought a property before, you will not be entitled to the first-time buyer discount.
Once the transfer takes place, your conveyancer will inform you that the sale is complete and you will receive a call from the estate agent (if one is involved in the sale) to pick up the keys to your new home.
Top tip: As the conveyancer will usually be working to complete the sale in the morning, it is usual to pick up keys at some point in the afternoon.
If moving from another property, you will need to change your address or inform the following companies you have moved:
You may also want to forward mail from your old address to your new one. The Post Office offer a service that can be organised online.
Top tip: You can redirect your mail with Royal Mail for 3, 6 or 12 months. If you opt for at least 3 months, this give you time to change all of your addresses over. Alternatively, if you are on good terms with the seller, you can arrange to collect your mail directly.
Buying a home is a big decision, but the process of buying a property is relatively simple. If you do everything at the right time and in the right order, this should help you to buy your first home with ease. Follow our guide, keep it simple and enjoy the process!
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