Buying a home is often the biggest financial commitment you can make, and as such, it can be both a daunting and arduous task, especially for first-time buyers.
There are many steps involved in the process of buying a house or a flat in the UK. In order to help make the process a little bit easier, this guide will cover all the steps you need to take to secure your home and help you to get a clear understanding of how long it takes to buy a house.
How long does it take to buy a house?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive timescale for how long it takes to buy a house. Typically there are multiple factors involved when buying, such as property chains and solicitor delays, that can drastically affect the home-buying process.
On average, it takes between 9 and 18 weeks to find the right property, around 18 to 40 days to receive a mortgage offer, followed by around 12 weeks for conveyancing, exchange of contract and to complete the sale.
Step 1: How much can I afford?
Once you have decided that buying a house is right for you, the most important factor to consider is the price. To understand how much you can realistically afford, it is important to consider the amount you need to borrow.
Some of the factors potential mortgage lenders will be looking at include:
- Your income level
- The stability of your income
- How big your deposit is
- Your outstanding debt
- Your monthly living costs
It is recommended that your mortgage should remain under 28% of your gross income. For example, monthly a person with a £2,500 pre-tax monthly income should not take a mortgage exceeding £700 per month.
To give you a better understanding of mortgages and how they work, please take a look at our complete Mortgage guide here.
Step 2: Finding the perfect property
After you have considered how much you can afford to spend, the next (and arguably one of the most exciting steps!) is finding your perfect property.
Online property portals can offer you a great place to start your search. However, when searching for your new home there are a few important factors you should take into consideration, such as:
- What type of Property are you looking to buy?
- Are you after a Freehold or a Leasehold property?
- How will you buy the property?
- Are you considering Shared Ownership?
- How many bedrooms will you need?
- Which area are you looking to buy a property in?
- Are you looking to buy a new build or a pre-loved home?
However, if you prefer to look offline for your new home, you can try a variety of other ways including:
- Speaking with local estate agents
- Asking a network of friends and family
- Contacting agents via ‘For sale’ sign boards outside properties
Step 3: Making an offer
Before submitting an offer
Once you have found your perfect property, all that is left to do is submit an offer to the appointed estate agent selling the home. However, before submitting an offer, there are a few things you should consider in order to ensure you receive the best outcome.
While price should always be at the forefront of your mind, it is highly recommended that you compare the price with similar properties to ensure that the home you have chosen is of similar market value.
In addition to comparing the prices, you should also ask the agent the following questions to get a better idea of what kind of offer you should be making:
- How long has the property been on the market?
- How many views has the property had?
- Has anyone made any offers on the property previously?
- What is the minimum price the seller will accept?
Asking these questions can potentially give you more room for negotiations on the price, and might allow you to snag yourself a bargain.
Submitting an offer
It is the estate agent’s responsibility to pass on your offer to the seller. If you have made an initial offer verbally, it is recommended that you submit a formal offer in writing to prevent any ambiguity and confusion at a later stage.
If your offer is accepted, then congratulations, you are one step closer to buying your new home. However, please note that until the contract is exchanged, the property remains that of the sellers, and they can withdraw from the sale at any time.
While it is unfortunate, sellers may renege on an offer if they receive a higher one from other parties. This practice is called ‘gazumping’ – click here to learn more about Gazumping and how you can avoid it:
Step 4: Securing a mortgage
Unless you are a cash buyer, you will need to arrange a mortgage. Appointing a mortgage broker can ensure you get the right advice as well as preparing and submitting all the necessary documents.
Your mortgage lender will also carry out a valuation by a surveyor to confirm the value of the property. Should the outcome of the report be positive, the lender will agree to offer you a mortgage on the property.
The mortgage application process can take anywhere between 18 and 40 days, and a mortgage offer will typically be valid for six months.
For more information on mortgages and how they work, please take a look at our in depth mortgage section on our website.
Step 5: Conveyancing
Once your offer has been accepted by the seller, you will need to instruct a conveyancer or solicitor in order to complete the legal paperwork of transferring property to your name.
If you have appointed a mortgage broker, they may also arrange the hiring of a solicitor and work as a “middleman”.
Your conveyancer will coordinate with the seller’s conveyancer to obtain all the information they need to move forward with the process, as well as carrying out all the necessary local authority searches.
How long does conveyancing normally take?
Conveyancing typically takes around 12 weeks. However, it can take longer if, there are multiple property chains. Thankfully, there are things that you can do to help speed up the process.
How to speed up the conveyancing process
Ask for the conveyancers ‘welcome pack’ as soon as your conveyancer has been appointed. A Welcome Pack will contain a covering letter outlining the complete documentation process as well as all the essential forms and documents that must be signed.
Complete the required documents ASAP – including proof of ID, proof of funds and any other documents requested.
Ensure you are in regular contact with your conveyancer – Chase them if you feel they are not working as required.
For more information on conveyancing and how it works, please take a look at our in depth conveyancing section.
Step 6: Building and Contents Insurance
Once you’re close to completing the purchase, it is a good time to start looking at arranging insurance policies in order to compare the right deals for your needs.
When it comes to purchasing a house there are three common types of insurance that you will come across, these are Builders insurance, Home Contents insurance and Life insurance.
While builders insurance is the only compulsory insurance that you will need to take out, it is advisable to also consider both Life insurance and Home Content insurance as well.
For a more in-depth guide to insurance and why it’s a very important (if often overlooked) aspect of the house-buying process, please take a look at our ‘Cost of Buying a Property’ guide.
Step 7: Completion date & deposits
Provided nothing unforeseen arises during any of the above steps, you should now be at the stage where you and the seller are ready to negotiate a completion date, as well as paying your deposit money to your solicitor.
When discussing a completion (or move-in date) we would recommend being as flexible as possible to the seller, while it is understandable to be anxious to move into your new home (especially if you’re a first time buyer!), the seller might be constrained depending upon the property chain length or various other circumstances.
As a sale is not complete until both parties have signed on the dotted line, you would be ill-advised to be too inflexible when it comes to negotiating a completion date as the sale could still fall through, even at this late stage.
Once the completion date has been agreed, the final step to take care of is the payment of your deposit money to your solicitor. However, this process is not as simple as it might first seem.
Most banks have a limit on the amount of cash you can move out of an account per day, so as such, you will need to either move payments across to your solicitor in daily instalments or set up a Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS) transfer which has no maximum payment limit.
Please note that a CHAPS payment may carry an additional fee. Be sure to clarify with your bank to see if they have a charge for a CHAPS payment and how much this will cost.
Step 8: Exchanging of contracts
Exchanging a contract is the most important step of buying a property, as it is a legally binding process that will see you (the buyer) and the seller, swap identical and individually signed contracts to finalise the house buying process.
It’s important to consider that once the contracts have been exchanged, neither party will be able to back out of the deal without facing significant losses of their fees spent thus far.
More often than not, contract exchanges usually take place over the phone, with both solicitors reading the contracts to one another.
Once the contracts have been agreed by both parties and both solicitors, the respective parties will mail the contracts to each other in order for each party to sign. However, please note that in the event of a property chain existing, both solicitors will have to wait until every party in the chain has finished exchanging contracts.
Should one of the contracts in the chain fall through there is a danger that the sale could be delayed until a new buyer for that particular property has been found.
As property chains can often cause delays, it is highly recommended to always inquire about the length of a property chain before reaching this stage – so that you are aware of any last-minute complications that can arise in the final buying stages.
Step 9: Completion
Completion day is the final step for buying a house and is the day that the solicitor pays the purchase price to the seller’s solicitor.
Once the selling party has received the money, the keys to the property will be handed over to the buyer, who is now free to live in their new home.
As mentioned in Step 7, the date for completion is agreed in advance between both the buyer and seller, and usually occurs on a weekday anywhere between 7 – 28 days after the exchange of contracts. However, should your mortgage lender or the seller have no issues, you could exchange contracts and complete on the same day.
While same-day completion & exchanges are not as common, the benefit to completing on the same day as signing a contract means that you are ultimately free to choose the move-in date that best suits your current schedule. This luxury, however, is often only practical if your move is not dependent upon selling and moving out of your current property by a particular date.