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The process of buying a house

Buying a house is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make — so it’s completely normal to be nervous, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. That’s why we put together this step by step guide to buying a home.

Are you ready to buy a house?

For many of us, it’s the dream. But it’s only the dream if it’s right for you, so you have to work out if you’re really ready to buy a house. 

It all starts with a deposit. You have to come up with at least 5% of the purchase price of the house upfront — but it can be more. Most people put down between 10% and 20% of the house price, with the average deposit falling at 16%

Start by looking at your own finances — any savings, debt, incomings, outgoings, everything. Every bill, every naughty takeaway habit, every penny you’ve put away. It’s time to get it all out there. 

If in doubt, figuring out if you're eligible for a mortgage is a good start. (In fact, we offer free, simple mortgage advice — with no obligation to sell with us.)

When you speak with a lender or broker you get an agreement in principle — where the lender agrees in theory to give you a mortgage for a certain amount. (The actual mortgage comes when you find the right property.) Then you have a good sense of your budget and you can start looking. 

Property search

Once you’ve worked out that you’re ready to buy and have a budget, it’s time to start looking. And that means deciding where to look. Location is one of the biggest influencers on price, so it’s a big decision — with a lot to consider. 

  • Do you want a smaller home in the most expensive neighbourhood you can afford? 

  • Do you want the biggest home possible, no matter where it is? 

  • Do you really need a huge house if it’s just for you? 

  • Or do you really want to cram you and your children into a small flat just to be a tiny bit closer to transport links or is it all about the school catchment areas? 

Looking at factors like transport links, schools, and deciding what local amenities mean the most to you will help you find the right location — or locations — to start your search.

There are no right or wrong answers, because it’s a really personal decision.

Looking at factors like transport links, schools, and deciding what local amenities mean the most to you will help you find the right location — or locations — to start your search. "

Viewings

Once you have a few potential properties, it’s time to start viewing. You may want to do initial viewings online and only do final viewings in person.

Either way, we recommend having a house viewing checklist with you, so you can remember everything you want to look at and all of the questions you want to ask. 

Thinking about chains

“Chains” is a property term that you’ll hear a lot — especially if you have a property to sell before you buy another one. A chain is basically property jargon for when a bunch of home sales are dependent on each other — so I agree to buy your home, but only once mine sells. And maybe someone has agreed to buy my home, but only if theirs sells. That means we’re all waiting for one sale to happen so the rest can fall into place. 

If you’re a first-time buyer, you won’t be in a chain — but the properties you’re looking at might be, so it helps to check. If you have your own home to sell, you normally want to find a buyer for that property before you’ll be able to make moves on your new home.

Making an offer

Once you’ve found a place you love, it’s time to strike. How do you make an offer? It’s really simple — you just let the estate agent know what you’re willing to pay. 

Some people like to go in hard with their highest and final offer, but most people think a good house bidding strategy is to start a little lower so there can be some wiggle room. Often sellers want to feel like they’ve gotten a little more out of you, even if it’s an amount that you were willing to pay in the first place. 

This can be a nail-biting step of buying a new home, but we all have to go through it — and we’re here to help.

Arranging a solicitor and survey

Jargon alert: When buying a home, you may hear a lot about conveyancing and surveying. Don’t worry, a conveyancer is just a lawyer who deals with the legal side of buying a property — and surveying is just having an expert look at the home to make sure it’s in good condition.

Your lawyer will help you through the legal side of the buying process, because there is a lot of paperwork. You’ll want to keep the cost of a conveyancer in mind when you’re budgeting, because it can really add up. In fact, the comes in at around £800 to £1,500, including VAT. 

You’ve probably heard about property surveys and, if you’re a little confused, don’t worry — they can mean a couple of different things.

A valuation survey

Also known as a valuation report, this is just about assessing the value of your house. These cost around  £350 and might be required by your lender.

A homebuyer survey

This is a more in-depth look at the structure of the home. You don’t have to have one, but it can prevent any nasty surprises. There is a huge range of options for a homebuyer survey, from a basic condition report to a full Home Condition Survey, but most start at around £350.

Finalising your offer and mortgage

After the surveys are complete, you can move forward. You may want to change your offer based on your survey findings — something that can be negotiated through your estate agents and solicitors. 

Any time before the exchange of contracts can be nerve-wracking, because this is when things can go off the tracks a bit. It’s when gazumping can happen (which means a higher offer comes in) or your mortgage lender won’t offer you the full price, based on the valuation. The good news? Your estate agent should handle the back-and-forth for you, to make your life as stress-free as possible. 

Then the financing. You’ll need to finalise your mortgage with your lender, to make sure they’re still OK with the loan. You’ll also have to make sure you have your deposit together for the exchange of contracts — which is normally 10% of the purchase price.

You can lose your deposit if you back out of the sale after the exchange, so make sure you’re really committed to this purchase before you go through with the contracts. We know, it can feel like a really big step — but for the right home, it’ll all be worth it.

A good estate agent will keep you updated through every step — especially if you’re dealing with a chain. You just sign on the dotted line. "

Exchange contracts

Exchanging contracts sounds scary, but it’s just what it sounds like: legally agreeing to buy (and sell) the property.  When buying a house in England and Wales, exchanging contracts is the first legally binding agreement between buyer and seller. 

After this point, you can lose your deposit — and the seller would have to return the deposit plus interest if they back out. 

But your role is pretty simple. Most of the negotiating and paperwork will be done between the two lawyers, but they’ll finalise all of the details and ensure that both you and the seller agree to the same terms. A good estate agent will keep you updated through every step — especially if you’re dealing with a chain. You just sign on the dotted line. 

Normally as a buyer, you release your deposit funds to your conveyancer, who then transfers it to the seller’s conveyancer to release to them. Done. Contracts exchanged.

Completion and final steps

Completion is the moment you’ve been waiting for — when you get the keys and can move into your new home. But you have some final steps before you get there.

  • You’ll have to pay your solicitor and any mortgage fees

  • You’ll have to arrange to pay stamp duty (normally taken care of by your lawyer)

You’ll have to sort out your move — either hire professionals or bribe your friends with pizza and beer.

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Buying a house FAQs

It depends. The average time it takes to buy a house is around 3-6 months, from getting a mortgage approved in principle to completion. But there are so many factors that can speed things up or slow them down. You may have delays with surveys or be stuck in a chain. On the other hand, things can move more quickly if, for example, you’re a cash buyer and everyone’s motivated. Every sale is different.

buying guides

Still hungry for more?

Find what you were looking for? We've put together some helpful guides to buying a home. Get stuck in.