Finding a home - First time buyer

The process of buying a house

6 min read

The process of buying a house can seem daunting. Here, we look at how to buy a house and break down the process step-by-step, so you have all you need to know about what happens after your offer is accepted.

  • Amy Colton, Conveyancing Manager and qualified solicitor
    Amy Colton

    Conveyancing Manager

    Published June 19th 2024

a dad and his son in their new home after completing the buying process

So, you’ve decided you want to buy a house. Now what? Whether it’s your first home, or you’re moving onto something new, buying a house can feel like a daunting experience – especially if you’re a first-time buyer, or you haven’t moved in a while.

Here, we explain the process of buying house step-by-step, so you can get a better understanding of the processes, giving you confidence through your house-buying journey.

In this guide:

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The process of buying a house

Whether you’re a first-time buyer, or moving up the chain, watch our video to understand how the buying process works once your offer has been accepted. Or continue reading to find out the steps to buying a house.

Watch our video to find out more on the process of buying a house

Duration: 2 minutes 24 seconds

Step 1 – Get an Agreement in Principle (AIP)

Before starting the house-hunting process, consider the costs and fees, and decide whether you can afford to move right now. Once you’re confident with your finances, you can get a mortgage Agreement in Principle, which is a basic way to find out how much you could borrow from your mortgage lender. It will help you focus your search on houses within your budget and make it easier to make an offer when you’re ready to. An AIP doesn’t guarantee a mortgage, however it should make the process of getting it approved quicker. It might also be useful in more competitive housing markets, as estate agents might only allow you to go to property viewings if you can prove you have an AIP.

If you want to get independent advice on mortgage rates, you can speak to a specialist mortgage advisor. Complete your mortgage application as early as possible to help avoid delays further down the line.

Find out more about the mortgage process.

Step 2 – Find your home and make an offer

Found the home of your dreams? Decide on your offer, and immediately inform the estate agent who can forward your offer to the seller. When it comes to securing your dream home, you need to move quickly, as the next viewer may make an offer before you do.

Find out more about how to find your perfect home, and how to get your offer accepted.

Step 3 – Instruct a conveyancer

If you’ve not already chosen a conveyancer, once you’ve had your offer accepted, it’s time to get the ball rolling and select a conveyancer to act on your behalf. They’ll guide you through the house-buying process and complete the conveyancing work that’s involved in transferring the home’s ownership (buying a house).

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Step 4 – Arrange a survey

Your mortgage lender will perform a desk-based survey to establish the property’s valuation, however you may also want to get an additional home buyer’s survey to check the overall condition of the property and find out about any essential or recommended repairs and work to be carried out.

Home buyer’s surveys are usually a good investment when buying a house. Although they come at an additional cost, they provide an insight into the overall condition of the property which could help you plan for future expenses. They can also you give the chance to renegotiate the property price if the report includes urgent issues.

Step 5 – Perform conveyancing searches

Your conveyancer will arrange property searches to give you more information about the house before you move on with your purchase. The main ones are Land Registry, environmental and drainage searches. They’re an important part of the process as they can flag potential issues, such as flood risk, ground stability and local development plans.

If you’re taking out a mortgage to purchase your property, your lender will likely insist that searches are necessary – as they’ll need to make sure that their money won’t be invested in a property that has a higher chance of being worth less in the future.

Step 6 – Finalise your mortgage

Once the survey is done and the conveyancing searches have come back, you can inform your lender you’re ready to proceed with your purchase.

If your mortgage application is successful, you’ll receive an offer from your mortgage provider. You can then spend some time reviewing your mortgage product and your contract terms to check the deal is right for you, since you’ll be making a big commitment. If you’re happy to proceed with your mortgage offer, you’ll then move on to the final steps of the home-buying process. 

Find out more about getting a mortgage.

Step 7 – Pay the deposit

To avoid any delays, you’ll need to transfer the deposit into your conveyancer’s account around now, so it’s cleared in time for the exchange. Depending on how long there will be between exchange and completion you might also need to cover conveyancing fees, as well as Stamp Duty Land Tax. To find out how much Tax you will be required to pay, you can use our stamp duty calculator.

Step 8: Agree moving dates

You’ll now be able to discuss provisional moving dates with the seller and the rest of the chain, so it’s a good time to start getting house removal quotes. This will help you to budget, as it can often cost a lot more than you were expecting. To make sure your move runs like clockwork, check out our handy moving house checklist.

Step 9: Exchange contracts

Your conveyancer will guide you through one of the final steps of the transaction; exchanging contracts. Once the contracts are signed, you’re now in a legally binding contract to buy the house.

Step 10: Complete your purchase

Before you can get the keys to your new home, on completion day, your conveyancer will transfer the rest of the money to the seller’s lawyer. The property is now officially yours and you can finally move in.

Following completion of your new house purchase, your conveyancer will let the Land Registry know you’re the new owner and arrange the funds transfer if you had stamp duty to pay. Once the registration is complete, your conveyancer will send you and your mortgage provider copies of the title deeds.

All that’s left to do is enjoy your new home!

Common pitfalls and tips to avoid them

From underestimating the importance of budgeting and amount of legal costs, to skipping home buyer’s surveys, these common mistakes could make your purchase more stressful. Here’s how to avoid them:

Budgeting mistakes

As buying a house in a long term commitment, budgeting correctly is essential to determine the price range of properties you can afford, so you can avoid financial stress, now and in the future. To be able to comfortably handle your new financial responsibilities as a homeowner, you need to factor in all costs – from legal fees and property taxes to maintenance and ongoing costs involved in the running the property.

For more help, read our guides on the costs of buying a house as well as ideas on how to improve your home’s energy efficiency, to help with ongoing bills and maintenance costs.

Hidden legal costs

Underestimating legal costs is another common pitfall, so make sure you talk to your conveyancer to fully understand charges and include them in your budget. Remember that when you buy a property, you’ll need to cover both legal fees and disbursements. These will vary depending on what conveyancing firm you use and the specific details of your property purchase.

Skipping home surveys

Getting an additional home buyer’s survey to check the overall condition of the property is essential to uncover problems that might not be visible to you and avoid expenses for repairing these. There are different levels you can get at different costs, so it’s wise to factor in which one you should get based on the property type you are buying. Make sure that the surveyor is an experienced and qualified professional. Once you’ve got the report, carefully review it and discuss any concerns before moving forward with your purchase. This will help you make an informed decision about whether to go on with your purchase as is, ask for repairs, or negotiate a lower price.

Find out more about home buyer’s surveys.

Mortgage missteps

Securing a mortgage pre-approval, known as an agreement or mortgage in principle, is important to avoid any negotiation challenges. Having a pre-approval will show sellers you’re a serious about your purchase, strengthening your credibility. Gather all necessary documents, such as wage slips and bank statements, and contact your chosen lender to submit your application and get your pre-approval letter to show you’re ready to move forward as soon as possible with the sale.

Paperwork pitfalls

Buying a home involves multiple legal documents, such as purchase agreements and contracts. Before signing any documents, make sure you take the time to read and fully understand the terms. You can then seek legal advice about your obligations and responsibilities. Ask your conveyancer to answer any questions, review documents and inform you about the consequences of breaking the agreement. Our team of Move Specialists can guide you through what is needed for a smooth transition.

Buying a house FAQs

Whether you’re wondering about stamp duty or completion dates, we’ve got the answers.

Do I pay stamp duty as a first-time buyer?

If you’re a first-time buyer, you won’t have to pay any tax on properties up to £425,000. If the cost of the property you’re buying is up to £625,000, you’re also eligible for discounted rates. However, if you’re purchasing a house that costs more than this, you won’t benefit from the first-time buyer exception.

Find out more about stamp duty.

How long does it take to complete?

Once contracts have been exchanged, completion will typically take place within seven to 14 days. Explore our completion day guide and checklist to find out more about what to expect during the final steps of the house buying process.

What is the cost of buying a house?

The cost of buying a house involves various factors and fees, such as mortgage and conveyancing fees, survey and removal costs and more. Explore the key expenses you’ll need to budget for and get tips to keep the costs down.

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