Once you feel you’re in a good position to buy (if you haven’t already, check out our top tips to getting onto the property ladder), having a timeline of events and approximate timescales to refer to can help make your journey to homeownership a little smoother, knowing that you’re on track and what to expect next.
This guide provides you with a simple walk-through of the 25 steps to buying a home.
1) Get a rough idea of timescales
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the typical time frames for each key stage of the house-buying process are as follows:
Be aware that this is only a rough guide, as timescales can vary depending on the buyer’s and seller’s individual circumstances, and issues that arise during conveyancing can add further delays.
2) Calculate your budget
There’s no point setting your heart on your dream home until you’ve established whether you can afford it. As a starting point, use a mortgage calculator to find out how much you could realistically borrow.
For added assurance, and to make yourself a more attractive prospect to the seller, you might consider getting a mortgage agreement in principle (AIP). This is an informal statement from a mortgage provider (any reputable lender will do) saying that they are happy to lend you a certain amount, based on your declared circumstances.
At this point you should also work the moving costs into your budget. These can soon rack up, so you’ll want to be sure you have the extra cash available. Factor in things like stamp duty, valuations and surveys, legal fees, buildings insurance, mortgage costs, and removals.
The average cost of moving house in the UK is around £9,000, although this can vary considerably depending on where you live and your circumstances.
3) Find a property
Now you have an idea of what you’re able to afford, the fun begins - the hunt for your dream property.
Visit your local estate agents, and register for daily online updates from property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla. You should have the option to personalise your search, so you’ll only see results matching your budget and desired location.
Then get viewing - it’s never a good idea to commit to buying a property before you’ve taken a look around and got a feel for the place (do this at least twice if you can).
4) Put in an offer
Once you’ve found a property, things start getting real: it’s time to make an offer.
No matter how badly you want a property, don’t commit to paying more than you can afford - you’ll need that extra cash to cover the rest of your moving costs.
You shouldn’t be put off if your first offer is declined - this is very common, especially in today’s market. Remember, both you and the seller are negotiating for the best price.
5) Milestone: Offer accepted
Mini milestone: Your offer has been accepted!
But there’s still a long way to go. There is no contractual obligation for you or the seller just yet, so be wary of being ‘gazumped’ (another buyer offering the seller more money than you) or ‘gazanged’ (the seller cancelling the sale) until you’ve exchanged contracts.
Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to prevent either of these from happening, other than to keep the process moving as fast as possible. It’s easier said than done, but try not to get too excited until you and the seller are legally bound to complete on the purchase.
6) Find the best mortgage
Now comes the really important part: finding a suitable mortgage.
Don’t be tempted to play it safe and go with your bank, as they will only be able to offer you a very limited selection of deals. There are hundreds of different mortgage products out there, and choosing the ‘wrong’ one could cost you tens of thousands of pounds!
It’s a good idea to enlist the help of an independent broker at this point; they will browse the entire range of products on the market (including exclusive offers only available to them) to find you the most affordable deal.
Depending on your individual circumstances, brokers can also recommend specialist lenders (such as those offering low income or bad credit mortgage products), so you’ll only be matched with those most likely to accept your application.
7) Complete your mortgage application
Now is the time to apply for a mortgage. If you need a hand, a broker can talk you through the process step-by-step, or help you get the paperwork and supporting documents in order, so you don’t make any silly mistakes and create unnecessary hold-ups.
8) Choose a conveyancing firm
Conveyancing is the legal process involved in getting the property transferred from the seller over to you. Your solicitor will handle all the paperwork, including Land Registry and local council searches, draft the contract, and see to the exchange of funds.
Your conveyancing solicitor will be your main point of contact once your offer is accepted, so you’ll want someone reliable who knows what they’re doing. Some lenders require you to choose one who is on their ‘approved lender panel’, so double check before making your selection.
Solicitor prices can cost in excess of £1,500, so make sure you choose one you (and your lender) is happy with.
9) Property valuation and lender checks
Before they make you an offer, your mortgage provider will carry out a number of checks on both you and the property you want to buy, to confirm that they are happy with the arrangement.
Checks on the buyer
Mortgage underwriters will confirm the information you’ve provided on your application checks out, such as cross-referencing your payslips or SA302s to confirm your income, and taking a deep-dive into your credit file.
Checks on the property
If you don’t pay your mortgage the property acts as security for the loan, meaning lenders can repossess it and sell it to get their money back. To provide themselves with the assurance that the property is worth what you’re paying for it, your lender will carry out a property valuation.
10) Solicitor carries out searches
While your lender carries out checks on you, your solicitor will perform a number of searches on your behalf. The different types vary by location, but the basics include:
Local authority searches - to check whether there are any building control issues, enforcement actions or nearby road schemes you should be aware of.
Drainage searches - to check the property is connected to the sewer system.
Environmental searches - to check the land isn’t contaminated.
There are a number of complications that can crop up during these searches, and it’s common to experience delays. This is where your relationship with your solicitor will be put to the test; keep in regular contact, and don’t be afraid to chase them for updates.
11) Arrange a property survey
Although your lender will have carried out a basic valuation before agreeing to lend on the property, this doesn’t provide you as the buyer with any protection whatsoever. A mortgage valuation is not a survey, so you need to get one done to ensure the property is in peak condition.
Depending on the type of property you’re buying, there are three main types to choose from.
Homebuyer's report - suited to conventional properties under 50 years old. These will usually set you back around £300 - £400, and can sometimes be carried out at the same time as the property valuation.
Building survey / full structural survey - suited to order properties or non-standard construction types. These can cost up to £1,000, but provide a far more detailed and comprehensive report.
Snagging survey - designed specifically for new-builds, and usually cost around £300. A snagging survey identifies any defects or unfinished areas, which you can prompt the developer to correct before completion.
It’s always a good idea to have some form of property survey carried out for your own peace of mind. If any problems are identified, you’re in a good position to go back to the estate agent and negotiate the price, or even back out of the sale if the problem is too severe.
12) Formal mortgage offer
Milestone reached: Your lender has issued a formal mortgage offer confirming they will lend you the money to buy that property.
You’re one step closer to closing the deal, but remember that neither party is legally obligated to proceed just yet.
Ensure that the details of the mortgage offer are accurate; triple check the figures, and flag any errors ASAP - even small discrepancies such as a misspelt name could cause significant delays.
At this point, your solicitor is responsible for checking the mortgage conditions, which will state the terms that need to be met before your lender will hand over the cash.
13) Sort out buildings insurance
Although you haven’t officially purchased the property yet, it’s better to get this out of the way sooner rather than later. Your property valuation report should include any details you’ll need, such as the estimated rebuild value.
14) Agree on a completion date
Once the solicitor searches are complete, it’s time to negotiate a completion date with the seller.
Ideally this will be a date that corresponds with when your mortgage payments are due, and if you’re selling an existing property, you might want to arrange for after the date you’re due to complete with your own buyers.
15) Transfer your deposit to your solicitor
It’s all getting a bit real now - the time has come to get your deposit over to your solicitor.
Try not to wait until the last minute to do this, as most banks don't allow you to move more than £25,000 out of an account per day. If this is a problem, you should be able to arrange a Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS) payment to your solicitor.
Once the deposit’s safely transferred, your solicitor will get you to sign the contract - you’re officially committing to the purchase!
16) Milestone: Exchange of contracts
Big milestone reached: there is now a legally-binding contract between you and the seller.
This is the real deal: your solicitor and the seller's solicitor have swapped signed copies of the contract (known as ‘exchanging contracts’). There’s no backing out for you or the seller after this point. If you do, you’ll lose your deposit.
17) Get a completion statement
After you’ve exchanged, there’s a lot of paperwork to sort out - now it’s your solicitor’s time to shine. They will provide you with a completion statement, which gives a clear breakdown of any outstanding fees that are payable to them before your agreed completion date.
18) More solicitor searches
Your solicitor will carry out further checks to make sure everything’s in order. They will need to confirm that the seller still owns the property, and that you haven’t suffered any serious financial mishaps, such as bankruptcy, during this time.
19) Sign the transfer deed
Most buyers will need to sign a transfer deed to confirm that you’re willing to take ownership of the property. This will be prepared by your solicitor, and will need to be signed with a witness present.
20) Draw down the funds
It’s at this point you (or rather, your solicitor) will finally receive the money your mortgage provider has agreed to lend you.
21) Pay for your home
Once the transfer from the lender has cleared, your solicitor will send the full payment to the seller's solicitor. You’ll then receive their title deeds, and proof that the seller's mortgage has been cleared.
22) Milestone: Completion
Major milestone reached: you have officially completed on your purchase, and can pick up the keys to your new home.
Well done! Now it’s time to prepare for the big move.
23) Pay stamp duty
Once you’ve completed, your solicitor has 14 days to send the Stamp Duty Office your transfer deed. If you haven’t already, you will need to pay any stamp duty land tax (SDLT) you owe. First-time buyer? You may be exempt - check out the 2021 changes to SDLT.
24) Register your ownership of the property
Next, your solicitor will register your details with HM Land Registry. Once registered, certain information, including your name, how much you paid for the property, and a plan showing the boundaries of the property, will be published online.
25) Receive the title deeds
Your solicitor will receive the new title deeds from the Land Registry and forward them to your mortgage provider.
Congratulations, you’re officially a homeowner. Now comes the fun part: paying off your mortgage for the next 25 years or thereabouts!