For first timers, it can be a little intimidating to consider the house buying process. UK regulations, legal considerations and assorted extras make property purchases a lengthy, and often costly journey. To set you on the path to homeownership, we’ll take you through the steps to buying a house. Remember, planning, preparing and picking out your ideal home should be an exciting process, not just something to be endured!
Before we launch into the step-by-step guide for the stages of buying a house, we’ve a few FAQs to get straight first. This will give you an overview of what to expect from the whole house buying process, before you jump in.
Step-by-Step guide to the house buying process UK
How long does it take to buy a house UK?
Estimates vary, but most UK conveyancers and estate agents will tell you that buying a house takes between two and six months. The reason this range is so large is that there are so many factors to consider. Do you need a mortgage? Can you get financing easily? Are you in a chain? Does the property have issues that need numerous surveys?
These are all important questions that will affect the speed of your property purchase.
For example, if you’re a no-chain buyer, with no mortgage or a small mortgage loan required, buying a new-build property, you can expect the process to be much faster. On the flip side, if you’re in a chain, need a sizeable mortgage and are buying an old house that comes with a lot of question marks, it’s likely to take many more weeks or even months.
How much money should you have saved before buying a house?
The more money you can save up before buying a house, the quicker and easier your purchase will be. Similarly, you will find it easier to secure a good mortgage with more affordable repayment terms.
We hate to say ‘how long is a piece of string’ but the actual amount you need depends entirely on the size, type and location of the property you want. Generally speaking, if you need to purchase a home with a supporting mortgage loan (as most new buyers do), the bigger your deposit, the better.
While a 5% deposit is usually the minimum allowable lending point, significantly better mortgage deals are available even with a 10% deposit. If you can get up to 30% or, ideally, a 50% deposit, you’ll find yourself able to access the best mortgage products on the market with the lowest interest rates.
How much are extra costs (legal fees, etc) for buying a house UK?
A recent estimate (Updated 30th March 2023) put the cost of buying a UK property at £33,070. This is based on the current UK-wide average value of a 3-bedroom property being £277,000. It also includes a 10% deposit of £27,700.
This leaves £5,370. These extra costs include conveyancing and other legal fees, homebuyers’ surveys and stamp duty. If you’re not familiar with any of these terms, don’t worry, our guide will take you through them.
What support is available to help buy a house?
There are various financial support measures available to UK homebuyers. Using one of these schemes could affect the basic process, outlined below, of buying a property. It could make a difference to the budget you set, the type of mortgage you access and the type of properties available to you.
In the UK, government schemes designed to assist people with lower incomes or low savings levels into home ownership include the Shared Ownership Scheme. You could open a Lifetime ISA to help you save for a house, while the UK Government also offers a mortgage guarantee scheme to make mortgages available to buyers with lower deposits. You can check what type of support is available by visiting the Own Your Home website.
Is there any way to speed up the process of buying a house?
Once you’ve found a property you want to buy, and you’ve had an offer accepted, the next stage is to go through all the legal stages required to complete the purchase. There are some things you can do to speed up the conveyancing process.
Firstly, respond to any questions from your solicitors as quickly as you can. You may also want to send your solicitor regular emails to check on their progress, so your transaction remains high on their list of priorities. You could instruct your solicitor to proceed with the necessary searches at the earliest possible opportunity, and you could even arrange your own survey of the property.
Make sure you have all your paperwork in order, including mortgage offers, proof of income and any documents required for you to sell or move out of your current property. There are some things that will be beyond your control with your property purchase, such as the length of the property chain. However, if you’re organised, you may be able to accelerate the process and move into your new home sooner.
Step-by-step guide to the house buying process UK
Step 1: Set your budget
The first step is often the most important in any big undertaking, and that’s the case here. It is essential to set a realistic budget, as this will help you find the right property much more quickly. Secondly, it will much the financing steps much simpler and more affordable.
So, consider your finances carefully. Establish how much of a deposit you can put together and still have funds left over for the extra costs. This is a crucial consideration because, as shown in the example above, the extras add up!
If you’re planning to use one of the many support schemes available to UK home buyers, make sure you confirm your eligibility and meet the scheme’s financial requirements. Many of these schemes are open to first-time buyers only, and you might be restricted to new-build properties, so make sure you understand the criteria before you embark on your property search.
Step 2: Find your ideal home
With a firm idea of what you want from your new home – and what you can afford – it’s time to start house hunting. While walking around your chosen area and physically going to estate agencies are good options, a simple starting point is to search online.
You can make a shortlist of the kind of homes you are looking for after just a short browse of some key websites. This will then help you home in on the right kind of property, and you can get stuck into the fine detail. Bear in mind, this part can be one of the longest steps to buying a house.
Once you have a clear idea of what you want, setting up viewings with estate agencies online or over the phone is simple. From there, you can let the search for your perfect home begin.
Step 3: Make a successful offer
After the viewings (of which there will probably be many!) have yielded the right home, at the right price, it’s now time to make an offer. This is done through the estate agent handling the sale, unless the seller is managing it themselves.
You can use our full guide on how to make offers and the terminology surrounding the process. Put simply, you use the asking price as a guide, then offer however much you are willing to pay. This offer is put to the seller via the estate agent. Then, the seller either accepts, refuses outright, or begins negotiations until you agree on a sales price… or not!
Step 4: Secure a mortgage (if necessary)
Once you’ve had your offer accepted on a property, now the real work begins. Unless you can pay the whole of the agreed sales price from your own funds, you’re going to need a mortgage.
We have a first time buyer’s guide to getting a mortgage that explains the process in full. The basic premise is that you apply to one of any number of mortgage lenders in the UK. You tell them how much you need, and give them all the relevant details of your financial circumstances. Based on their eligibility criteria, they will either approve your loan or deny it.
If you’re accepted, all is well. If the application is denied, don’t despair. There are plenty of lenders who offer mortgage products for buyers with minimal deposits, or even bad credit. Persistence will pay off, especially in 2022, where several affordable housing schemes and initiatives are still in place.
Step 5: Conveyancing
Technically, conveyancing can begin even while you sort out your financing of the property purchase. So, this is a joint fourth step.
Conveyancing is the legal term for formalising the sale and transfer of property from one party to another. Conveyancers are a kind of specialised solicitors who work on your behalf to arrange all the necessary checks and file the appropriate paperwork with the HM Land Registry and other relevant organisations. If you need any surveys done – from basic valuation to specific structural issue surveys – your conveyancer can arrange them at this point.
While you can do your own conveyancing, it’s difficult, time-consuming and expensive if you get it wrong. Hiring a conveyancer means you have a trained professional to ask the important questions and formalise the sale in a legally sound manner.
That’s the basics but, you’ve guessed it, we have a dedicated guide to conveyancing too!
Step 6: Exchange of contracts
Once the conveyancers have done their work and all checks and surveys are finished, it’s time to close the deal. This is assuming that both parties – you and the seller – are still happy to proceed. If there have been any problems along the way, this might involve some renegotiation of the price.
Otherwise, it’s a simple case of finalising the paperwork on what is known as ‘completion day’. This is where you physically get together with the seller to sign and exchange the final contracts. Get to completion day, and the hardest steps to buying a house are over.
One small word about gazumping. It’s not too late to get gazumped at this point. Gazumping is where the seller is approached by another buyer with a higher offer, and decides to take it. While rare, gazumping is a growing trend in the house buying process UK-wide.
Step 7: Complete the sale and move in!
If you’ve successfully completed all the steps to buying a house, then congratulations, you’ve bought your new home! With the contracts signed and completed, you can pick up the keys from the estate agent or owner directly. The property is now legally yours.
Step 8: Pay for everything
There’s one more thing, and it’s a biggie – payment. Once you sign the contract, you are in a legally binding arrangement with the seller. While you could technically still pull out of the sale, you would forfeit your deposit.
Now its time to transfer the remainder of the agreed sales price to the owner. This is generally taken care of by your conveyancer, who will coordinate the transfer with your mortgage provider. Your conveyancer will also pay for any stamp duty, if it applies. This amount will then be tacked on to their fee paid by you. Our guide to stamp duty can tell you more if you’re not familiar with how it works.
That’s it! Happy house hunting, and house buying. During all these steps, remember to plan carefully, ask questions and always, always keep your budget in mind.
While the steps to buying a house in the UK may seem difficult, with forward planning you can make the process a lot faster and less painful. Consult our many guides if you need to know more about the specifics.
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