Buying a house is a complex and often lengthy process – but if you can get your head around the basics of how it works, you’re less likely to be taken by surprise along the way and your home-buying experience will undoubtedly be easier.
Save for a deposit
You’ll usually need to build up a deposit of at least 5% of the price of the property you want to buy. However, it’s often worth saving more if you can bear to wait longer, as a bigger deposit means access to better deals.
Find out how much mortgage you can borrow
The amount a mortgage provider will lend you to buy a house will depend on the size of your deposit, your income and your credit score. If you’re buying a property with other people, the lender will also take their finances into account.
Remember to budget for the additional costs of buying a property, including conveyancing, surveys and – depending on the cost of the property and whether you’re a first-time buyer – stamp duty.
Research your chosen area
Even if you’ve lived there all your life, it’s important to do some digging on the area you want to buy in before signing on the dotted line. Look into:
- Any regeneration projects or transport links being planned for the area
- School catchment areas and Ofsted ratings if you have (or are planning to have) children
- Crime rates and flood risks
- Traffic and noise at different times of day
View properties in person
While you’ll inevitably spend plenty of time browsing Rightmove and Zoopla, it’s important to view properties in person as well as online. Viewing homes in real life will give you a deeper understanding of their potential – or lack of it – plus you’ll be able to gauge whether they give you that indescribable ‘feeling’, which simply can’t be conveyed via a screen.
When you find somewhere you like, it’s worth viewing it more than once and at different times of day, as you’re more likely to notice potential problems.
Make an offer on a property
It’s quite common to offer less than the asking price. However, if other people are interested in the property, you may need to offer the asking price or more.
Looking at how much other, similar properties in the same neighbourhood have recently sold for will help you work out how much the property is actually worth. You can find this info on websites such as Zoopla and the Land Registry.
Once you’ve decided how much to offer, you can tell the estate agent on the phone or in person, but it’s worth putting it in writing too. Mention any points that stand in your favour – eg if you’re a chain-free first-time buyer – and say that your offer is subject to a survey and the property being taken off the market, as this lessens the chances of you being gazumped.
Find a conveyancer or property solicitor
Conveyancing is the legal process that takes place after your offer is accepted. In England and Wales, this includes:
- Conducting searches
- Liaising with the seller’s conveyancer, their estate agent and your mortgage lender
- Checking the documents provided by the seller, including the lease if you’re buying a leasehold property
- Drawing up and checking contracts
- Dealing with the Land Registry
- Paying any stamp duty owed
- Transferring money from you to the seller
You can either use a conveyancer, who might not be a qualified solicitor but will definitely specialise in property, or a regular solicitor (who you should check has recent experience in property law).
Conveyancing fees can range from around £500 to £1,500, depending on the cost of the property and the complexity of the transaction (you’ll usually pay more if it’s a leasehold property). Look for a firm offering a fixed-fee service – if you agree to an hourly rate costs could quickly spiral.
Get a property survey
Property surveys help to assess the condition of the building and detect any problems. Although a survey is optional, it’s better to be aware of any issues before buying so you can make an informed decision on how much to offer and budget for any repair work required. A survey could also enable you to either negotiate the purchase price down, or ask the seller to fix any problems.
Most surveyors provide three ‘levels’ of survey – a condition report, a HomeBuyer’s report and a building survey. The cost will depend on the location, size and type of property.
Don’t confuse the valuation survey conducted by your mortgage lender with a house survey – they are two different things and you should always have your own survey done independently.
Get home insurance
It’s vital that you have buildings insurance in place on your new home from the day you exchange contracts – in fact, most mortgage providers will make this a condition of lending.
This is because you are legally responsible for the property from the moment contracts are exchanged – so if the building were to be flooded or burn down before the day of completion (see below) and you weren’t insured, you wouldn’t be covered.
If you’re buying a new-build property, the insurance doesn’t need to come into effect until the day of completion.
The exchange of contracts happens when the buyer and seller’s legal representatives swap signed contracts, and the buyer pays the deposit.
Before the exchange of contracts, you’ll need:
- A written mortgage offer
- Property information and fixtures and fittings forms from your seller
- Results of local searches for any planning or environmental issues from your conveyancer
- For prospective leaseholders, any key information about the lease, such as special clauses prohibiting pets and subletting (your conveyancer should help with this)
- An agreed completion date
- Home insurance in place from the day of exchange, or from completion if you’re buying a new-build (see above)
Once you’ve exchanged contracts you can breathe a sigh of relief, as the agreement for you to buy the property is now legally binding and so the chances of anything falling through from this moment are extremely low.
Your conveyancer will lodge an interest in the property, enabling you to pay the seller, and apply to the Land Registry to transfer the deeds to your name.
Complete and move in!
Completion typically takes place two weeks after exchange, although this is flexible and you can agree a convenient time with the seller.
On completion day, the money will be transferred to the seller and you can then collect the keys from the estate agent and move into your new home.