Our First-Time Home Buyer Guide covers important topics in a beginner-friendly way, such as financing options and government schemes available.
Finding a property and getting an offer accepted
Finding a property and negotiating a price is the most variable step in terms of time, spanning anywhere from 6 weeks to over 6 months.
Find out how much you can borrow
You can estimate how much you can borrow using online calculators but for a more accurate figure, get a Decision in Principle (DIP) (also called an Agreement in Principle). This is a written statement from a lender that indicates the amount they may be willing to lend you, without a full credit check.
Prepare a budget
To understand how much you can afford, you should prepare a new budget that considers not only potential mortgage payments, but also additional recurring costs such as home insurance, property maintenance, and council tax.
Deciding on the right area to buy
If you're open to a wide range of areas, you'll want to carry out an in-depth assessment of your options based on factors such as affordability, economic opportunities, local amenities, and transportation.
The guide covers how to calculate a property's market value, assess the seller's situation, navigate the negotiation process, and understand Gazumping and Gazundering.
Going from offer accepted to signing the contracts typically takes between 4 to 12 weeks. The amount of time depends on whether any issues surface during the surveys or the conveyancing process.
Find and apply for a mortgage
A Decision in Principle (DIP) is only valid for a certain period, typically 60 or 90 days, and depending on how long you have been property searching, could have expired by now.
It's worth reassessing your mortgage options even if your DIP is valid, as the deals available are always changing. You can make use of mortgage comparison services or a mortgage broker - remember that your usual bank isn't the only option, and if you only speak to them, it's unlikely you are getting the best available deal.
When you apply for a mortgage, you will get a document called a mortgage illustration. This breaks down all the essential features of your mortgage. Be sure you check and save a copy of this, as you will need it when the mortgage offer comes through, which can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to over a month.
Choose a conveyancing firm
Conveyancing is the legal process that involves the transfer of property ownership from the seller to the buyer. Licensed conveyancers are specialist property solicitors, who do all the paperwork, searches, and handle the deposit and mortgage money.
You'll be working closely with your chosen conveyancer, so ask friends or family for recommendations, or compare quotes and reviews online to find one that meets your needs and budget.
Some people choose a solicitor earlier in the process and have them manage the offer process, however, this isn't a requirement.
Your mortgage lender carries out a survey
Your mortgage lender will carry out a valuation of the property. This is done for their benefit, and you might not even get a copy of the report, or be told if their valuation amount is below what you have offered.
Get a survey
The valuation carried out by your mortgage provider is for their protection, not yours. Some may use an automated valuation model to instantly estimate the property's value, rather than carry out an in-person assessment, particularly if you have a large deposit and so the lender isn't exposed to much risk.
As a buyer, you can opt for a survey to assess the condition of the property which may uncover any potential issues or defects that might not otherwise be immediately obvious.
Several types of surveys are available from the two main accrediting bodies, RPSA and Rics, and they come at different levels of cost and complexity.
Rics Home Survey - Level 1 - The Level 1 survey summarises the property's condition using a traffic light system. Ideal for newer properties in good condition, it highlights significant issues but doesn't delve into detail.
Rics Home Survey - Level 2 or RPSA Home Condition Survey - The Level 2 survey provides a more detailed review, highlighting problems affecting the property's value, advising on repairs and maintenance, and indicating any surface-level issues. This non-intrusive survey is best for most properties in reasonable condition.
Rics Home Survey - Level 3 or RPSA Building Survey - The Level 3 survey is a comprehensive examination of a property's structure and condition. It's recommended for older, unusual properties or those needing significant work. The surveyor checks the attic, looks under floorboards, lists defects, and may include repair advice and costs.
Attend with your surveyor
If possible, attend the surveyor's assessment of the property, as they may comment on minor issues or aspects of maintenance that won't necessarily be included in the final report. Additionally, you can ask questions directly, helping you clarify any uncertainties.
Your solicitor carries out checks
Your solicitor will carry out searches, which are checks on the local area of the home you want to buy. There are typically three searches required by mortgage lenders, which are:
Local authority searches - These searches investigate whether there are any planning or development restrictions or other issues that could impact the property's value. It also includes information on nearby roads, railways, and public rights of way.
Drainage searches - These searches confirm the property is connected to the main water supply and sewage system. They also check for any potential issues with the water infrastructure.
Environmental searches - These searches assess potential environmental risks, such as flooding, contamination, or land instability. They also provide information about nearby historic land use.
As a buyer, there are several additional optional searches, such as Flood Risk Searches, and HS2 and Crossrail Searches. Your solicitor can advise you on whether these would be worth paying for, based on the property.
Review mortgage offer
Once you have received your mortgage offer from your chosen lender, review the mortgage illustration and compare the details to the original one you saved. If any of the details are incorrect, go back and question it.
Exchange to Completion
The final stage is exchanging contracts and then completion, which usually takes around 1 to 2 weeks.
Negotiate a completion date
Once the solicitor notifies you that the searches are complete and you are happy with the results, you and the seller can agree on a completion date. This is the day when the funds are transferred from your solicitor to the seller's, and you can move into your new home.
The day you agree to complete will depend on personal circumstances, but it's common for the agreed date to be around one or two weeks later, often to coincide with a monthly payment for rent so that there isn't overlap.
Transfer the exchange deposit to your solicitor
As you approach the completion date, you'll need to transfer your exchange deposit to your solicitor.
Banks often have restrictions on online payment transfers, such as a maximum online transfer amount of £10,000. If your solicitor is happy to receive the payment in chunks, you might be able to do it using multiple online payments, however, you also have the option of a CHAPS payment, which has no limit and can be arranged for same-day payment but usually comes with a fee of around £15 to £30.
Speak to your bank and solicitor about how best to transfer the funds if you are unsure.
Once the surveys have been reviewed and the conveyancer's work is done, your solicitor will get you to swap and sign contracts. After this is done the transaction is legally binding and both you and the seller can't pull out.
Arranging buildings insurance
Building insurance is a mandatory requirement for obtaining a mortgage, as it protects against structural damage. Even though you don't yet own the property, after exchanging contracts you are going to own it in the future, so it's best to arrange this early.
Some leasehold properties may already have buildings insurance included as part of the annual service charges - check with the building management company to make sure you aren't double paying.
Review the completion statement from your solicitor
Your solicitor will give you a completion statement with a breakdown of any outstanding money you need to pay them. This includes any remaining deposit, stamp duty, legal fees etc. These need to be paid before the completion date.
Your solicitor carries out final searches
Your solicitor will carry out some final additional searches to confirm that the seller still owns the property being sold and that you haven't been declared bankrupt since your mortgage offer.
Sign transfer deed
Your solicitor handles the preparation of the Transfer Deed. You'll need to sign it, and it needs to be witnessed, before the completion date. Also known as the transfer of ownership, this document confirms you are accepting ownership of the property.
Your solicitor pays for the property
Your solicitor will request the mortgage funds from your provider. They will be used in combination with your deposit to pay for the property.
The full amount is sent to the seller's solicitor, who in turn will send the title deeds and proof that any outstanding loans on the property have been cleared.
Finally, on the completion date, you will officially be the new owner of the property.
What Happens After Completion?
After completion, there are several post-completion tasks, typically taking about two weeks.
Pay stamp duty
You'll be required to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) if your property is in England or Northern Ireland. For properties in Scotland, you'll need to pay Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT), and for those in Wales, you'll need to pay Land Transaction Tax (LTT). Your solicitor should take care of this payment, which must be settled within 14 days of completion.
Register the property with HM Land Registry
Your solicitor will register your ownership of the property with HM Land Registry. This registry serves as a public record of property ownership within the UK. Depending on various factors, this process can take anywhere between one and six months. This will also make the price you paid for the property a public record, which will be published on the Varbes house price pages.
Transferring the title deeds to the lender
Finally, your solicitor will obtain the title deeds of your new home and forward them to your mortgage lender. These documents will be held by the lender for safekeeping through the duration of your mortgage repayment period.
What Can Delay a Home Purchase?
In some cases, the home-buying process can be significantly slower than the average timelines provided above. Here are some common causes to be aware of.
A property chain is where a group of home buyers and sellers are dependent on each other. If you want to buy a house but first have to wait until the seller buys their next home, you're in a property chain.
Delays or disruptions can occur if any link in the chain breaks down – for example, if a buyer pulls out of their purchase or if there are issues securing mortgage financing. The longer the chain, the higher the risk of delays.
Unexpected survey findings
A property survey can uncover unforeseen issues, such as structural defects or legal complications. These findings can cause delays in the purchase process if further investigation is needed. You may need to re-negotiate with the seller to resolve the issues or adjust the property's price to reflect the costs associated with rectifying the identified problems.