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Nine steps to buying your first home in 2020

Follow our tips to get mortgage-ready and onto the property ladder

If you’re an aspiring first-time buyer, we’ve put together some advice that could help you onto the property ladder in 2020.

Owning your own home might seem like a pipe dream, but more than 380,000 people achieved it in 2019, according to the latest figures from UK Finance.

Here, Which? offers a step-by-step guide to achieving your property-owning dream.


1. Work out how much deposit to save

Most lenders will need you to put down at least 5% of a property’s purchase price as a deposit.

This can be a tough target to reach, especially if property prices are high in the area you want to buy your first home.

For a home worth £150,000 you will need to have saved at least £7,500. But if the starter homes in your area are closer to £230,000 mark you’ll need £11,500.

You can use our calculator below to figure out how much you’ll need.


2. Boost your deposit savings

Unfortunately,  the Help to Buy Isa has now closed. But If you’re under 40 and looking to buy a property worth up to £450,000, you could open a lifetime Isa.

With a lifetime Isa you can save up to £4,000 each year until you’re 50. For every £4 you save, the government will add a £1 bonus to your savings. This means you could get an extra £1,000 each year.

Bear in mind if you make withdrawals before you’re 60 for something other than buying a home, you’ll face a 25% penalty on the amount you withdraw.

3. Look at how much you can borrow

A mortgage is a loan you take out to buy a home.

The size of the mortgage you are eligible for coupled with the deposit you can save will determine your budget for buying a home.

Most mortgage lenders will offer you between three and four-and-a-half times your annual income, plus anyone you’re buying with.

For example, if your income is £25,000 a year, the most you could borrow is £112,500.

Find out: how much you could borrow with our mortgage calculator

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4. Explore mortgage options for first-time buyers

If you find that the amount you can borrow based on your income isn’t quite enough, there’s still hope.

There are various types of mortgages designed to help first-time buyers unlock extra cash to help them get onto the property ladder.

100% mortgages

With this type of mortgage, you could borrow the entire cost of the property you’re buying, so that you don’t have to put down a deposit.

It’s worth bearing in mind that 100% mortgages are rare, and they come with risks.

Find out more: pros and cons of 100% mortgages

Guarantor mortgages

These involve a family member taking on some of the risk of the mortgage. This means you could be more likely to get a mortgage, borrow a larger amount or get a lower rate of interest.

Find out more: the different types of guarantor mortgages

Joint borrower, sole proprietor

A joint borrower, sole proprietor (JBSP) mortgage takes into account both you and your family member’s income.

You might be able to borrow more with a JBSP mortgage than if you applied for a mortgage on your own, which could also mean putting down a smaller deposit.

Find out more: how family members can help first-time buyers

5. Research first-time buyer schemes

You could get onto the property ladder sooner with the help of a government scheme, such as a Help to Buy equity loan, or buying a ‘shared ownership‘ property.

Help to Buy

With a Help to Buy equity loan, you could borrow up to 40% of the cost of a new-build home, depending on where you want to buy.

You’ll also need a deposit of at least 5% of the property price, and to borrow the rest from a mortgage lender.

Find out more: how Help to Buy equity loans work

Shared ownership

Shared ownership is another scheme designed to help first-time buyers onto the property ladder.

You can buy a share between 25% and 75% of a property, and pay rent on the remaining share.

Find out more: the pros and cons of shared ownership

6. Get a mortgage promise

When you’ve reached your savings goal for a deposit and are ready to start house-hunting, you can apply for an ‘agreement in principle‘.

This is a statement from a mortgage lender about how much they’d be willing to lend you. It can help you search for a property that’s within your price range and help bolster your bid when you make an offer.

It usually involves a soft search of your credit report to verify the details you have entered are correct.

If you aren’t successful for a mortgage agreement in principle it’s worth checking your credit report and taking steps to improve your credit score.

Find out more: how to improve your credit score

7. Research new areas to move to

If your budget means you can’t afford to buy in a place where you already live, you will need to research other areas.

Try building a shortlist of potential areas and staying in each for a couple of nights to see if it’s definitely somewhere you will want to live.

Also, be sure to work out how long it will take to commute to work, and visit friends and family.

If you’re buying in England, our area comparison tool lets you compare the area you’re interested in with the national average or another town.

Find out more: tips on finding the best places to live

8. Start house hunting

Once you’ve nailed where you want to live, you should set up alerts on portals such as Rightmove that will let you know when new properties come onto the market in your price range.

You should also start to make appointments to view homes to get a feel for the types of homes available for your budget.

Download our property-viewing checklist and take it with you on viewings to make sure you don’t miss any important details. If you’re considering buying a new build, check out our guide to viewing a show home to avoid being taken in by sales tactics.

You can also take a look at our guide on how to buy a house for advice on viewing properties, making an offer and more.

9. Make an offer and apply for a mortgage

When you’ve found a property, it’s time to make an offer.

Our guide to making an offer on a property explains what to think about and how to negotiate if your offer is turned down.

Once you’ve had an offer accepted, you’ll need to apply for a mortgage.

Even experienced home-movers often use a mortgage broker to help them with this as it can be so complicated working out which is the best deal.

A broker will also be able to tell you which lenders are most likely to accept you, and where you’re likely to be able to borrow the most money from. To work out how much a mortgage would cost you each month, use our mortgage repayments calculator.

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