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10 steps to buying a house

Last updated on January 16th, 2024 at 04:41 pm

Latest posts by Caroline Murray (see all)

    Find out how long each step takes by viewing our house-buying timeline

    Step 1: Agree a mortgage

    You might not have found your home yet but it doesn’t mean you can’t get your finances in order.

    You can get a mortgage from an independent financial adviser, mortgage broker, bank or other lender. Always search the market for the best possible rates.

    Once you’re happy, get an agreement in principle (AIP). Nowadays you can do this online. The AIP tells you:

    • how much you’ll be able to borrow, based on your credit score
    • the interest rate you’ll pay

    The AIP is usually only valid for 30 or 90 days, so if it expires it’s worth doing another search to try to find a better deal.

    Your conveyancing solicitor will recommend that you have finance in place before you exchange contracts, so it’s vital that you ensure your mortgage offer is valid.

    Step 2: Find your new home

    Research the market so you know how much similar houses in the same area are selling for. When you view a property with the estate agent:

    • Be shrewd. Play down your interest—and your budget—even if you’re certain this property is your dream home.
    • Ask why the owners are selling, and what they’re including in the sale (e.g. fixtures and fittings, other contents etc.). You might want to get this in writing.
    • Find out everything that could impact you or the property once you’ve bought it, such as:
      • planned works
      • problems with neighbours
      • issues affecting the local area
    • Examine the property thoroughly, including:
      • looking for damage that the owners might be trying to hide under furniture, rugs or new coats of paint
      • checking water pressure, central heating and drainage

    Once you’re satisfied, you can make your offer.

    Step 3: Make an offer

    You’ll make your offer to the estate agent. You won’t have to pay them anything—they only charge a fee for selling properties.

    Homes are sold either via open negotiation or sealed bids.

    Open negotiation

    Sealed bids

    Buyers submit offers and compete openly to have theirs accepted. There are opportunities to increase offers and ‘gazump’ other buyers.

    • Pitch your first offer at 5%–10% under the asking price. But know that this tactic is very common, and many sellers will cover it by setting their asking price accordingly.
    • The estate agent will let you know if you’ve been outbid and you’ll be able to increase your offer.
    • Only go above the asking price if you’re afraid of losing out.
    Buyers submit their written offer in a sealed envelope. With no knowledge of competing bids, buyers usually start at the top end of their budget. The seller can then choose the highest offer, and often get more than their asking price.

    • Avoid going over your budget just to ensure you win—only pay what you can afford and what you believe the home is worth.
    • Add a small amount to your offer so it beats the round numbers that other bidders are likely to submit (e.g. £295,050 rather than £295,000).

    When your offer is accepted

    • Remember that, legally, nothing is set in stone until you exchange contracts, and either you or the seller can still pull out of the transaction.
    • Ask the seller to take the property off the market. Otherwise, you’re at risk of being ‘gazumped’, which is when another buyer makes an offer higher than the one you’ve had accepted. The only defence to being gazumped is to do it yourself and increase your offer.

    Step 4: Submit your mortgage application

    You have a mortgage agreed in principle. Now you can complete the process by submitting your formal application to your lender, who will arrange for a surveyor to carry out a valuation survey.

    Step 5: Instruct a conveyancing solicitor

    Conveyancing is the legal term for transferring ownership of property. You need to appoint a conveyancing solicitor to do all the legal work required to make sure your house purchase goes smoothly. This includes:

    • preparing documents—including requesting a draft contract from the seller
    • conducting conveyancing searches
    • providing any necessary legal advice—for example:
      • examining conditions of the sale
      • explaining issues such as planning conditions
    • paying stamp duty on your behalf and registering you as the new owner
    • contracts and completion—for example:

    Some mortgage lenders insist that you choose a conveyancing solicitor from their own panel, so always ask whether this applies to you. Graysons Solicitors is on most lenders’ panels.

    Read more about the conveyancing process and conveyancing costs.

    Step 6: Arrange a survey

    Although your lender will have a valuation survey carried out (see step 4), this is very basic and won’t include anything about the condition of the home you’re buying.

    Surveys carried out by qualified surveyors are optional but highly recommended. They are detailed inspections that will reveal problems you wouldn’t otherwise discover until after you move in. Read more about surveys here.

    As the buyer, you must arrange the survey yourself—your solicitor has no involvement in this part of the process.

    Step 7: Pay the deposit

    As you move closer to exchanging contracts, your solicitor will ask you to:

    • sign the contract
    • pay the deposit

    The deposit is usually 10% of the total purchase price, and your solicitor will transfer the funds to the seller’s solicitor.

    Step 8: Agree a completion date

    Before contracts can be exchanged, everyone involved must agree a date for the purchase to complete. This is usually between 6 and 12 weeks from the start of the process, but it does depend on how complicated the transaction has been.

    It’s also common to have a week between exchange and completion to allow your solicitor sufficient time to carry out the final searches and obtain your mortgage funds, but this period can be longer or shorter to suit the circumstances of the chain.

    Avoid agreeing a completion date with the seller or any other parties before your solicitor advises you to do so, as issues can crop up which then delay the date and leave you disappointed.

    Step 9: Exchange contracts

    Your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor will exchange signed copies of the contract, meaning you’re now legally committed to the purchase. Neither you nor the seller can pull out now—if you did, you would lose your deposit and potentially be liable for other damages.

    You shouldn’t exchange contracts until you’re satisfied that everything found in the surveyor’s report has been properly dealt with.

    At this point, your solicitor will also:

    • request funds from your lender
    • deal with the final searches
    • ask you to forward any amount of the balance that you’re paying yourself (i.e. not borrowing)

    This is also a good time to arrange buildings insurance.

    Step 10: Completion

    On the working day before the agreed completion date, the money for the purchase will be transferred electronically from your mortgage provider to your solicitor, who will send it on to the seller’s solicitor. Once this goes through, the transaction is complete and you can collect the keys for your new house.

    Your solicitor will:

    Registering your ownership can take some months depending on how busy the Land Registry is. Once your solicitor receives the paperwork, they will send both you and your mortgage lender a copy.

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