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How to buy a house

Our step-by-step guide to buying a home explains everything you need to know, from saving for a mortgage deposit to making an offer and moving in

In this article
Step-by-step guide to buying a home 1. Save a mortgage deposit 2. Find out how much you can borrow 3. Research your chosen area 4. Apply for a mortgage agreement in principle 5. Register with estate agents 6. View properties in person 7. Make an offer 
8. Apply for a mortgage 9. Find a conveyancer or property solicitor 10. Get a house survey 11. Research removal companies 12. Arrange home insurance 13. Exchange contracts 14. Complete and move in Video: the process of buying a house

    Step-by-step guide to buying a home

     

    Buying a home 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.

     

    This page takes you briefly through each step you’re likely to take during the home-buying process, and you can find more details by following the links within each section.
     

     

    1. Save a mortgage deposit

    You’ll usually need to build up a deposit of at least 5% of the price of the property you want to buy. For example, if you wanted to buy a house worth £200,000 with a 95% mortgage you would put down £10,000 of your own money, and borrow the remaining £190,000.

     

    It’s often worth saving more if you can bear to wait longer, as a bigger deposit means you can apply for mortgage deals with lower interest rates.

     

    If you're a first-time buyer, saving into a lifetime Isa will entitle you to a 25% top-up from the government (up to £1,000 a year) on your savings.

     

     

    If you’re keen to buy sooner rather than later, you could consider the following options...

     

    Help to Buy equity loan - you save a 5% deposit and the government loans you between 15% and 40% of the property price (depending on where you want to buy) for a new-build home.

    Shared ownership - you buy a 25%-75% share in a property, and pay rent on the rest.

    Help from parents - even if your family can’t provide cash towards your deposit, some mortgage lenders will take parents’ incomes or assets into account, making it easier for you to borrow.

    2. Find out how much you can borrow

    The amount a mortgage provider will lend you will depend on various things, including the size of your deposit, your income and 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, such as conveyancing, surveys and - depending on the cost of the property and whether you’re a first-time buyer - stamp duty.

    3. Research your chosen area

     

    If you’re exploring towns or neighbourhoods you haven’t lived in before, it can be worth spending a night or two in the area to check out the commute, shops, restaurants, and general atmosphere.

     

    Even if you’ve lived in the town all your life, it’s important to do some digging on the area you want to buy in before signing on the dotted line.

     

    Things to look into include:

     

    4. Apply for a mortgage agreement in principle

    A mortgage agreement in principle (AIP) is a confirmation from a mortgage lender that they would, in principle, be willing to lend you a certain amount. It can also be known as a decision in principle (DIP) or mortgage promise.

    Having an AIP can make you a more attractive buyer, as it shows the seller and their estate agent that you will be able to secure the amount of money you need to buy the property.

    5. Register with estate agents

    Once you’ve chosen the area (or areas) where you’re interested in buying a home, register with local estate agents in the area. Registering is free and won’t create any obligation on your part.

     

    Keeping in touch with local estate agents could increase your chances of finding your ideal home, as agents sometimes contact registered buyers before listing a property online.

    6. View properties in person

    You’ll inevitably spend plenty of time browsing property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla, but 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) and you’ll be able to gauge whether they give you that indescribable ‘feeling’ that you can't really get from a screen.

     

    When you find somewhere you like, it’s worth viewing it more than once, and at different times of the day, as you’ll be more likely to notice potential problems.

    7. Make an offer 

    Deciding exactly how much to offer can be tricky.

    It’s quite common to offer below than the asking price, but it all depends on the individual property. If other people are interested or it's a particularly hot market, 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 worth. You can find this information on websites such as Zoopla and the Land Registry.

     

    Once you’ve decided how much to offer, you can tell the estate agent over the phone or in person, but it’s worth putting it in writing too.

     

    Mention any points that stand in your favour - for example, 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. This can reduce the chances that you'll be gazumped.

    8. Apply for a mortgage

    You’ll need to think about what type of mortgage you want to apply for. Fixed-rate mortgages are by far the most common, with most buyers choosing to lock in their rate for two or five years.

     

    You'll also need to consider your mortgage term. In the not-so-distant past, most people took out 25-year terms, but terms of 30 and 35-years have become increasingly common for first-time buyers battling rising house prices.

     

    You can see how much your monthly payments would cost based on different interest rates, loan amounts and mortgage terms using our mortgage repayments calculator.

    Taking out life insurance to protect your mortgage

    A life insurance plan can offer peace of mind that your loved ones won't be left out of pocket if you fall ill or die before repaying your mortgage.

    Our partner LifeSearch has over 20 years’ experience of helping consumers find the right life insurance policy. Arrange a call to discuss your options.

    9. 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 carrying out searches, drawing up and checking contracts, dealing with the Land Registry and paying any stamp duty. Buying a house in Scotland works in a slightly different way. 

     

    You can use a conveyancer - who might not be a qualified solicitor but will definitely specialise in property - or a solicitor, who you should check has recent experience in property law.

    10. Get a house survey

    House surveys help to assess the condition of the building and detect structural 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.

     

    Surveyors registered with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) provide three ‘levels’ of survey, while those registered with the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA) offer two levels. 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.

    • Find out more about house surveys, including how much they can cost and how to find a surveyor.
    • Or if you're buying a new-build property, read our guide to snagging surveys.

    11. Research removal companies

    If you don’t have a lot of furniture to move into your new property, you could hire a removal van yourself.

     

    But if you have a lot to move, removal companies can help make the process easier - Which? Trusted Traders can help you find a reliable firm near you.

     

    Removal company costs will depend on the amount of items you need to move and the distance to your new property, among other things.

     

    Once you’ve found one or two firms you like, check their availability before agreeing a completion date with the seller (see below) so you're able to move on the date you agree.

    12. Arrange 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 bound to buy 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.

    13. Exchange contracts

    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 to have several things prepared in advance, such as a written mortgage offer, an agreed completion date and buildings insurance in place from the day of exchange (or from completion if you're buying a new-build).

     

    After you’ve exchanged contracts you can breathe a sigh of relief, as the agreement for you to buy the property is now legally binding. 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.

    14. Complete and move in

    Completion often takes place around two weeks after exchange, but this is flexible and you can agree a convenient date 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.

     

    Next comes the much more enjoyable task of starting to furnish and decorate the property to your taste - and maybe even taking a moment to simply relax. You’ll have earned it!

    Video: the process of buying a house

    In this short video, property TV presenter Jonnie Irwin runs through the steps you'll need to take when buying your first home.

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