February 18, 2022
While the UK housing market is constantly evolving, the actual process of buying a house doesn’t necessarily change too much.
Whether you are taking your first steps onto the property ladder or not, it will always be a significant financial commitment and one that shouldn’t be rushed.
On average, a home buyer can expect the purchase process to take upwards of three months. During this time, you might view a number of houses, and work alongside estate agents, solicitors and surveyors before you get your hands on the keys.
From mortgage valuations to conveyancing, there are actually many steps that buyers must go through before securing their ideal house.
While buying a new home in the UK can sometimes feel long winded, if you go into it with a clear understanding of the process, you can ensure that your purchase goes as smoothly as possible. What’s more, knowing the property specialists that can help you along the way can certainly streamline the house buying process and make your life a lot easier.
To simplify your home purchase, we have put together an ultimate guide on what to expect. Here, we will explain to you the steps to buying a house from start to finish.
Before you even start looking into the house buying process, prospective buyers should have a good idea of what the entire task may cost.
Aside from a deposit and subsequent mortgage payments, don’t forget there will be a stamp duty payment, solicitor fees and home insurance that you need to pay. What’s more, you don’t want to overlook the smaller tasks such as paying for a removal service when you finally get your hands on the keys.
With an idea of all the additional costs and fees you should expect to pay, you can ensure you have enough left over to cover the deposit. As of this year, there is a government-backed mortgage scheme that allows prospective buyers to get on the housing ladder with just a 5% deposit.
Assuming that you have saved up at least 5% of the price of a home, it is also important to look into how much you will be allowed to borrow.
There are some free online tools you can use to get an unofficial range, such as this calculator by Money Saving Expert. However, we recommend that you consult a mortgage adviser and consider a Mortgage Agreement in Principle (AIP).
An AIP can make you more appealing as a buyer as it means a lender has run a credit check and given you an indicator of how much they’d lend. It is no guarantee, but it proves to sellers that you are serious about your house hunt. Arranging an AIP now can also help to speed up the process further down the line.
Remember that lenders will also require you to complete a mortgage stress test before agreeing to a mortgage. The stress test, introduced by the government after the 2008 financial crisis, makes sure that borrowers can afford to keep paying their mortgage and other outgoings - even if interest rates were to go up. It ultimately uses a higher mortgage rate scenario to predict if you are reliable for repayments. While it is not actually an ‘exam’, your mortgage lender will ask you a number of questions to determine whether you pass.
The first steps to buying a house start with conducting a search. This one might seem obvious, but it is worth bearing in mind that there are several options available to you here.
Nowadays, the majority of buyers will turn their attention to online markets such as RightMove or Zoopla. They’re easy to use websites that allow you to refine your search, compare house prices, and assess other metrics such as school catchment areas and distances to train stations.
According to RightMove, the online platform experienced its busiest month on record in 2021 with over 221 million visits to the website.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that estate agents usually become aware of properties before they’re listed online. So, it is in your interest to register with a few estate agents to get ahead of the curve. What’s more, using an estate agent with a good knowledge of the area can give you a better insight into the location and other important factors you may miss if you rely solely on property listings sites.
Another avenue that you might have considered is a house auction. Though low prices might be appealing, this process comes with a lot of added risks - especially if you don’t have time to conduct a survey beforehand. That risk can be compounded if you’re a first time buyer and lack experience with purchasing a home.
The UK housing market has long suffered from a shortage of homes , which can mean that certain local markets will have a lot more prospective buyers than sellers. This, however, should not deter you from getting out there to view properties while also making sure to ask the most important questions.
Doing your research about what similar properties have sold for and knowing how long a house has been on the market can be a good place to start. Zoopla is a great resource for checking historic sales prices and estimates of current open market values.
What’s more, checking power sockets and the boiler are simple things that you should be doing at every viewing to save you any nasty surprises later down the line. You could also consider viewing the house at different times of the day to better gauge how loud that rush hour traffic really is.
Make sure to ask these questions during a viewing:
At this point in your search, you should also understand the difference between buying a home freehold or leasehold. With a freehold property, you own the building and the land it’s built on. Whereas under a leasehold agreement, you just own the lease from the freeholder.
When it comes to houses, freeholds are almost always the more desirable option and most houses are sold freehold. However some new build estates are sold as leasehold, while shared ownership schemes are often also sold as leasehold.
When it comes to flats, the reverse is true, in that most flats are sold leasehold. This is because a single party - the freeholder - needs to have ownership of the building containing each of the individual flats, and can then manage collective endeavours such as maintenance to communal areas and building renovations.
A leasehold will come with specific terms that the leaseholder must abide by. These will usually include maintenance fees, service charges and ground rent. It may also require the leasehold to seek permission before making any changes to the property, or prohibit things such as pets from living in the property. So check the terms carefully, when buying a leasehold property.
Leases are usually for long time frames, typically 90 or 120 years, but can also be much longer. A lease of less than 90 years can start to become problematic, and less than 80 years should be carefully considered before buying.
Owners of leasehold flats have legal protections that usually give them the right to extend it by 90 years (if certain criteria is met), and someone considering buying a leasehold flat of less than 80 years would usually insist that the current leaseholder extends it before the sale is completed.
Extending leaseholds on houses is a trickier business. If you’re considering buying a leasehold house, it’s advisable to seek specific legal advice beforehand so you’re fully informed.
For more information on leaseholds, the .gov website provides official information for leaseholders.
Researching the local area is just as important as attending a house viewing and can really give you a good idea of what living there might be like.
Reaching out to the neighbours should be your first point of call as they could give you some more information about the property and area. What’s more, it could be an indicator of whether they are a compatible neighbour or if there might be any grievances.
Then, head out into the surrounding area and scope out your local parks, schools and even parking options. Ask yourself is the high street looking run-down? Are the parks being maintained? And think carefully about whether you can imagine fitting into the area.
What’s more, keep an eye out for any building sites and head to the Government website to learn of any proposed developments that require planning permission. Afterall, you don’t want to move in only for your garden to be plunged into shade because of a new block of flats.
External factors around your home can also affect the mortgage options available to you.
For example, you might be required to pay a higher deposit and get flooding insurance before securing a mortgage for a home in a flood risk zone. According to research by the Environment Agency, 1 in 6 properties in England are now at risk of flooding.
Luckily, there is increasing support for home owners who find themselves in a flood-prone area. Go to Flood Re to find out how you can keep your premiums down.
In terms of the buying a house timeline, you now come to the first big hurdle. If you’ve found your dream home, decided that the area is perfect and done all the necessary checks, now it’s time to put in an offer.
However, it is worth remembering that this is still a negotiation and there might be other buyers also interested in the property. What’s more, this is still not a legally binding agreement.
When it comes to making an offer on a property, prospective buyers will usually inform the estate agent of the amount they’re willing to put down. You can contact the estate agent by phone and also send an email to clarify your offer and move in details. The estate agent will then pass on the offers to the seller who can accept or decline.
As we mentioned earlier, some local UK markets are witnessing a larger amount of buyers than property sellers. As a result, recent statistics from the Land Registry revealed that more than a third of homes actually sold for their asking price - or higher.
While this might sound alarming, buyers should think carefully about what offer they wish to submit. Research about what offers are being accepted for other houses in the area might be a good idea. What’s more, coming in lower than the asking price is acceptable but be prepared to haggle.
While some of the earlier stages of buying a house seem quite obvious, now we turn our attention to the legal and financial aspects of buying a house.
Once your offer has been accepted, you now need to proceed with your mortgage application process. If you already opted for an AIP, this step might be a little more streamlined. For buyers who haven’t secured an AIP, this is where you find a lender.
Many home buyers opt for the help of a mortgage broker to find them the best deal available. However, it is also possible to find a mortgage independently - and this is known as an ‘execution only mortgage’.
While there are benefits to both methods, you are definitely better protected when working with a broker who knows the market. Although this might cost you upwards of £500, a broker can save you plenty of time and money if they secure a low-interest rate for you. They will also have a good idea whether your mortgage application will be accepted in the first place and what requirements a lender is looking for.
A study found that 17% of house sales that fell through in the UK were as a result of a buyer being unable to secure a mortgage. With this in mind, it is worth having a specialist on your side.
To apply for a mortgage, you will need to provide six months of bank statements, proof of employment as well as a form of ID. As part of the application process, the property will also undergo a mortgage valuation to determine if the lender values the property in line with the sales price.
A mortgage valuation doesn’t even necessarily take place in person. Many will assess online data before deciding whether an in-person visit is necessary. Lenders can sometimes charge for this service (in the range of £250 to £1,500 depending on the property type and price) or offer it for free to attract new clients. It is also very important to remember that a mortgage valuation is not the same as a house survey (more on that below!)
A typical mortgage application can take up to six weeks. Once a formal mortgage offer has been received and you accept it, now you can move onto the next stage of the purchase.
While it might seem unusual to be doing a survey after putting in an offer, remember that the sale is still not contractual at this point. The house only officially becomes yours when the contracts are exchanged later down the line. But, before that point, there’s still some tasks to complete.
When the mortgage process is underway, it is also in your interest to arrange a property survey from a licensed building surveyor.
The survey can help identify any issues that could impact the property’s value or result in costly repairs down the line, such as issues with rot, subsidence, or electrical wiring.
What’s more, the technology that property surveyors have access to is rapidly expanding. Services such as AI and Building Information Modelling, mean that buyers can gain a really valuable insight into a property. We suggest looking into the options available and keep in mind that a survey could save you thousands of pounds in the long run.
IMPORTANT: Remember that a property survey is for the buyer’s benefit and is not the same as a mortgage valuation.
There are three types of surveys that are available to buyers at varying costs:
Though the cheapest of the three, this can cost £350+
A homebuyer report costs around £400+
Prices vary depending on the property but are usually £700+
Undergoing a property survey is not a legal requirement when buying a house. However, there are huge benefits associated with getting one completed. First and foremost, they can save you money in the future by detailing what you might need to spend on repairs down the line.
A conveyancer will now need to step in to deal with the legal side of buying a property. Within a week of your offer being accepted, the estate agent will usually create a memorandum of sale which will need to be signed by the buyer’s and seller’s conveyancers. This is a non-contractual agreement that puts in writing that your offer has been accepted. From here, the final legal steps begin. It should take about 10-12 weeks for the sale to be completed.
In short, a conveyancer is a regulated official that makes sure all the legal documents are in order for the sale to go through. This will involve dealing with the Land Registry, doing research into planning permission and paying stamp duty as well as drawing up and checking contracts.
You might have already hired a conveyancer prior to putting in an offer for a property. Either way, at this point they are a vital part of the home buying process.
While either representative can be used when it comes to buying a home, there are slight differences between the two. Namely, a conveyancer is a property specialist that is qualified to handle legal matters to do with house sales and purchases. They are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).
A solicitor, on the other hand, is a qualified lawyer. This means that they will be able to provide wider legal support in different areas. Their services are usually more expensive than that of a conveyancer.
Prior to signing the contract, the conveyancer will also conduct several checks to do with your prospective property. For example, they will look into planning permissions in the area and even conduct further environmental checks that could affect your purchase or offer. From making sure the house is connected to the water supply to checking the legal ownership, a conveyancer is incredibly useful when it comes to the final hurdles.
They will also support buyers who are part of a Help To Buy scheme and work with the seller’s conveyancer to make sure the process runs smoothly.
There are also some added steps that will need to be completed for the purchase of a leasehold property. For this, your conveyancer will also play an important role in obtaining the relevant documentation.
Once an offer has been accepted and a conveyancer has been instructed, they will request a Leasehold Information Pack from the managing agent. This important information details ground rent, service charges and proposed maintenance work. If you are buying a flat, the freeholder will also need to provide your conveyancer with the block buildings insurance policy.
Buying a leasehold property will take longer because there are more checks to complete. Your conveyancing fee will also usually be more expensive as a result.
Of course, a conveyancer’s services is an important part of the house buying process and it is also one of the fees that you should have factored in at the start. Although costs can vary, a good benchmark when budgeting for a conveyancer is £1,000.
Most estate agents will have professional relationships with conveyancers and will offer to refer buyers to a conveyancer within their network.
However, there are often more benefits to finding your own conveyancer. Firstly, you might be able to find a cheaper option by shopping around and getting quotes.
Secondly, your estate agent’s conveyancer may not provide a fully digitalised service, such as an online self service portal to upload documents, virtual ID verification and digital document signing. Finding a conveyancer that provides this can save you a lot of time and hassle, as well as speed up the overall time it takes to exchange contracts.
When buying a house, you must also arrange home insurance cover prior to exchanging contracts, so the policy is in place from the day the purchase is complete. Not only does this mean you’re covered should the worst happen from the moment the property is legally yours, most mortgage lenders will insist on a home insurance policy being in place before they will release the funds.
It also means there is still some leeway to pull out of the sale if it turns out that you can’t find any insurers prepared to offer you a policy, or if you find that you can’t afford the insurance.
There are plenty of options available when it comes to selecting the best home insurance for you. A number of price comparison sites will be able to show you the best offers in the market. You can alternatively seek the help of an insurance broker to find you the best deals or even go directly to the insurance providers.
There are also different types of home insurance policies that you may want to look into:
If you have made it to this point, it is almost time to pop the bubbly.
The legal representatives working with the seller and the buyer will make sure that they are happy with the sales contract they have compiled. Everyone will also agree to a move-in date and you will now need to hand your deposit over to your conveyancer.
They will do a few final checks and make sure that all the relevant steps have been completed. However, at this point, it is quite unlikely that anything will fall through when it comes to the house purchase process.
The final step will involve you signing the contract to make the property legally yours.
Once the contracts have been exchanged and the deposit has been paid, the house is officially yours. The deeds of the home will now be transferred into your name and you receive the keys to the property. Usually, your conveyancer will also process the stamp duty payment on your behalf.
At that point, you can settle up any payments for services such as your conveyancer and begin the moving process.