A step-by-step guide to buying your first 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.
If you want a bit of inspiration, you can also download our guide below, print it out and tick off each milestone as you move towards becoming a homeowner.
1. Save for 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.
But 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 hoping to buy a property costing up to £450,000, 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...
A 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.
- Find out more: how to save for a mortgage deposit
2. Find out how much mortgage 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.
- Find out more: how much can I borrow? mortgage calculator
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 a local B&B to check out the commute, shops, restaurants, and general atmosphere.
Even if you’ve lived in the area 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:
- Find out more on how to find the best places to live, where you can use our comparison tool to discover specific information about an area where you're looking to buy.
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.
Eight in 10 mortgage holders we surveyed in June 2019, and who took out an AIP, said they thought it helped them
- Find out more: how an agreement in principle can help you secure a 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.
- Find out more: tips on finding a property when house-hunting
6. View properties in person
Half of homeowners we surveyed in January 2019 said they thought 'the feeling' was extremely important when house-hunting
You’ll inevitably spend plenty of time browsing 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’re more likely to notice potential problems.
- Find out more: the most important things to check when viewing a property
- Plus: our guide to viewing a show home if you're considering buying a property that hasn't been built yet.
7. Make an offer on a house or flat
It’s quite common to offer less than the asking price. But 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 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.
- Find out more: how much to offer on a house or flat
8. Apply for a mortgage
You’ll need to think about what type of mortgage you want to apply for - for example, a fixed-rate mortgage or a tracker - and how long you want to spend paying your mortgage off, known as the mortgage term (25 years is the norm).
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.
- Find out more: how to apply for a mortgage
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.
Find out more: what does conveyancing involve?
10. Get a property survey
Property 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.
76% of homeowners got a survey before buying their current home (Which? January 2019)
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.
- 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.
- Find out more: how to choose a removals company
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.
- Find out more: buildings insurance explained
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.
- Find out more: what's involved in exchanging and completing on a new home
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!
- Find out more: what you need to do when moving house
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.