The house buying process

There are several steps involved in the process of buying a home. Here’s a step-by-step guide to take you through the process.

1. Decide if buying a home is right for you

There are a number of things to consider before embarking on the search for a new home – not least whether you can actually afford it. 

Although many people aspire to owning their home, it’s important to understand the positives and potential difficulties first.

Pros

Security

Owning your own home can give you a greater sense of security compared with renting.

It’s comforting to know that you have a long-term place to live, and as long as you keep up with mortgage repayments, you won’t be evicted at short notice.

Finance

When interest rates are low, home ownership can be significantly cheaper than renting. 

According to a 2018 report by Santander, the average monthly rent in the UK is currently £912 per household, compared to monthly mortgage payments of £723.

A property is also seen by many as a long-term investment, and in a rising market you could get a large return if you decide to sell down the line.

Freedom

With your own home, you can invest in the furniture you want, decorate it to your personal taste, and make renovations without having to ask permission from a landlord first.

Cons

Responsibility

Buying a home is a big financial commitment, and monthly repayments can prove difficult if your circumstances change, which is why prior financial planning is very important.

Costs

There are lots of additional costs attached to owning a home, including things like insurance and maintenance. If the boiler breaks, you’ll have to cover it.

Commitment

Some people aren’t ready to commit to owning a home. If you don’t think you’re ready or if your job situation isn’t stable, buying a property might not be the right decision at this time.

2. Save for a deposit

The larger your deposit, the better chance you stand of securing a larger mortgage and a lower interest rate.

The size of your deposit will be relative to the overall cost of the property you might buy, but you can make a rough estimate by using a mortgage calculator to see how much you may be able to borrow based on your income, outgoings and an approximate deposit based on what you think you could save up.

3. Plan for extra costs

In addition to your deposit, there will be other upfront costs that crop up throughout the process of buying a house. 

Make sure you’re prepared for:

  • Solicitor fees

  • Surveys

  • Mortgage fees

  • Stamp duty (but first-time buyers are exempt on purchases under £300,000!)

  • Land registry fees

  • Removals

  • Possible home improvements (painting, curtains/blinds, furniture etc.)

4. Get a mortgage in principle

Prior to viewing potential properties and putting in offers, it can be helpful to have a mortgage in principle to show estate agents that you’re a serious buyer and that a lender will be happy to lend you what you need for a mortgage.

5. Begin the search for a home

This is when you start really considering where you want to buy, what your priorities are, and what the market is like.

You can begin by looking online or in local papers.

You can also start meeting estate agents to ask any questions you have, and begin viewing homes in the area(s) you’re interested in.

6. Arrange to view ideal properties

Ask for Home Information Packs (HIPs) of the homes you want to view. These contain basic information about the property.

It’s good to begin by looking at a range of homes, even those that may not be a good fit, as it’ll help you understand what you can expect to get for your money and also what you definitely do or don’t want.

Here’s a checklist of what to look for:

  • The layout: Is it functional for your planned use? Are the shape/size of the rooms going to be an issue?

  • Damage: Are there any signs or structural issues like large cracks in walls? Any signs of leaks and dampness? 

  • Doors and windows: Will they need replacing and therefore cost you more later on?

  • Updates: Have any updates been made to the house? 

  • Plumbing, electrics and insulation: Are these working well? How long since they were put in place?

Rather than focusing on one home at a time, consider a handful of properties at once. This’ll ensure you don’t get too invested in one home without comparing other suitable options.

7. View them again

So you’ve looked at lots of houses, have ruled out the ‘nos’ and now have one or two options you’re likely to go for - it’s time to view them again.

Ask someone you trust to come along and be a second pair of eyes to help you figure out if the property is a worthy option to pursue.

And if you aren’t sure, go back and view it again, while still looking around at other properties, before making a final decision that you’re confident with.

8. Put an offer in

As soon as you’ve explored the marketplace, viewed a handful of properties, and found the home of your dreams, you’ll need to make an offer before it gets snapped up.

This will usually be done through the estate agent.

9. Get a mortgage

The next step is to line up a mortgage offer, so that you can actually pay for your new home.

Familiarity can make it tempting to approach your bank or existing mortgage lender for a new deal.

However, exploring your options by going to a broker who can scan the mortgage market for a suitable deal may be a better move. 

Mortgage brokers, like Trussle, can source deals unavailable elsewhere, and can also provide impartial advice and support you through the process of getting a mortgage.

10. Get a solicitor/conveyancer

This step could also be done before step 8: Get a mortgage.

If your offer has been accepted, and you’ve got a mortgage offer from a lender, the next step is to arrange for a solicitor or conveyancer to handle the legal process to transfer ownership of the property to you. 

The solicitor or conveyancer will carry out searches with the local authority to make sure there are no fundamental problems with the property.

Many mortgage brokers, including Trussle, will be able to arrange a conveyancer for you.

You can also find your own conveyancer, but make sure you ask your mortgage lender first - each mortgage lender has a list of approved conveyancers.

11. Have the property surveyed

At this point of the journey, it’s a good idea to get a full survey completed.

Although your lender is likely to have done a basic one at the beginning, this will tell you everything you need to know about the property and highlight any potential problems.

You could opt to have a private survey after you make an offer and have a basic valuation done, but before exchanging contracts.

12. Finalise the offer and exchange contracts

After the survey has been completed and you’re happy, it’s time to negotiate any final details that are yet to be agreed; from the completion date to items such as white goods that the seller has said they’ll leave behind.

Your legal representative (solicitor or conveyancer) will put the terms of the transfer in writing and will notify the land registry that they’re transferring the property’s ownership to you.

They’ll also liaise with the mortgage lender to ensure the mortgage is ready for completion.

Before exchanging contracts, you must pay the deposit on your new home.

The move-in date and the period of time between exchanging contracts and completion can be anywhere from a day to a couple of months, depending on what stage the people buying your property and moving out of your new property are at. This is commonly referred to as the ‘chain’.

13. Completion - you’re a homeowner!

Completion is when the property officially becomes yours. The mortgage and deeds are transferred and you’ll pick up the keys to your new home.

But the journey isn’t over just yet. You still need to pay your solicitor/conveyancer fees and stamp duty - the payment of which will be arranged by your solicitor or conveyancer. There are the removal costs too, of course.

Once these are out of the way, you can properly celebrate moving into your new home!

How long does it take to buy a house?

The full process, from viewing properties to completion, takes around 6 months.

However, this can vary from person to person depending on a range of things like finances, unexpected delays or no luck finding the right home etc.

If you’re a first-time buyer without a chain, and your finances and documents are all in order, it’s possible to buy a home in 2-3 months.

How long to get a mortgage?

It generally shouldn’t take longer than 3 months to get a mortgage, depending on your circumstances, and can often be much quicker. 

To allow your mortgage broker to complete their side of things quickly, you’ll need to have the necessary documents in place to support your application.

It’s then up to the lender to approve your application. This involves performing a credit check, a valuation of the property, and a review of that valuation.

Everyone’s circumstances differ and some will be more complex than others, impacting the speed of this process.

Applying for a mortgage online tends to be quicker than using a traditional broker. For example, using Trussle you can provide your information in just ten minutes, and on receipt of your documents your application will be submitted to the lender. 

Lender approval time

The lender’s processing time varies - some applications can be accepted on the very same day, while other offers can take up to several weeks to be processed.

For example, according to our data, applications to Halifax were approved in around 6 days on average, whereas more specialist lenders like Kensington could take up to around 21 days.*

Keep in mind that the time between submitting an application and approval can vary depending on your individual situation and the lender’s day-to-day performance.

*This was correct as of August 2019

The cost of buying a house

Beyond just the price of the property you’re buying, there are plenty of other costs that come with the process of buying a home.

So, it’s important to be aware of the extra costs and plan around them so you aren’t caught off-guard once you begin your journey to owning a property.

Solicitor fees for buying a house

How much does a solicitor cost when buying a house?

A solicitor or licensed conveyancer will need to carry out all the legal work when buying and selling your home - their fees vary depending on the property lawyer and your location.

Legal fees typically range from £850 to £1,500 (excluding stamp duty).¹ They’ll also do local searches to check whether there are any local plans or problems, which will cost you in the region of £250 to £300.

They tend to be broken down into standard legal fees and disbursements. Disbursements include²:

  • Bankruptcy search - £2 to £4 per person taking out the mortgage

  • Land Registry office copies - £4 to £8

  • Electronic ID verification - £2 to £18 per person taking out the mortgage

  • Local authority searches - £100 to £200

  • Water and drainage search - £30 to £40

  • Environmental search - £30 to £35

  • Telegraphic transfer fee - £25 to £45

  • Mortgage handling fee - £60 to £80

  • HMLR final search - £3 to £7

  • Land Registry Charge - £20 to £910

How and when are solicitors fees paid?

You’ll be charged a base fee - usually a few hundred pounds - for the entire case, which may be fixed or by the hour.

The conveyancing fees for handling all the standard legal aspects of the transaction are payable directly to your solicitor upon completion - this generally includes their time, registrations, and costs they’ve incurred from start to finish.

Fees to carry out the local searches will usually have to be paid upfront to your solicitor throughout the process, as and when they incur them.

Conveyancing fees

What is conveyancing or conveyancing searches and how much should it cost?

Conveyancing involves the legal transfer of home ownership from the seller to the buyer - it refers to all the legal and administrative work associated with this process, which starts when an offer on a house is accepted through to the completion of the sale.

A solicitor or licensed conveyancer usually manages this process and their fees can vary as widely as house prices.

Property searches (also known as conveyancing searches) are enquiries submitted by your solicitor to various authorities to find out more information about the property you plan to purchase, such as bankruptcy search and local authority searches.

Legal fees typically range from £850 to £1,500 (excluding stamp duty) but, factor in land registry fees, searches, and other disbursements which can cost in the region of £300.

There’s no such thing as an average conveyancing fee at all.

Mortgage broker fees

How much do mortgage brokers charge?

Mortgage brokers operate independently and must be licensed. Many will charge a fee for their service, which is either paid by you, the borrower or the lender.

However, some brokers including Trussle don’t charge a fee at all.

Those that do charge a fee will generally either charge a percentage of the loan amount or a fixed fee - on average this can be in the region of £500.

Find out more in our mortgage broker guide.

Mortgage fees

How much are mortgage fees?

Mortgage fees can depend on a number of factors, like your personal situation or the mortgage product you’re applying for. They generally include the following:

  • Arrangement fee - sometimes called a ‘product fee’ usually about £1,000 but varies considerably.

  • Missed payment fee - some lenders might charge a fee if your account is in arrears and the penalty depends on each lender’s rules.

  • Early repayment charge - this charge might not always apply, so be sure to check what the rules are with each mortgage provider, especially if you want to make an early repayment in the future. Typically the charges range from 1 to 5% of the value of the early repayment.

  • Exit/closure fee - a fee to your lender when you repay your mortgage, even if you’re not repaying it early. If you’ve already paid the mortgage account fee then it’s unlikely you’ll need to pay this particular fee as it will usually include set up and maintenance, as well as the closure of the account. Typically £75 to £300.

There are a range of other costs that you might need to pay; read more in our exhaustive mortgage affordability guide.

Other fees and considerations

What is the higher lending charge?

A higher lending charge (HLC) is a charge made by mortgage lenders when the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of a mortgage is higher than they’re prepared to accept at standard rates.

Typically, HLCs are applied to loans in excess of 90% of the property value.

The fee may be used by the lender to purchase an insurance policy designed to protect themselves against loss in the event of you defaulting and ceasing to repay your mortgage. Some lenders may insist upon the fee at the start of the loan - others may not.

HLC fees are typically charged at up to 8% of the amount of the loan being advanced over the threshold.

So, for example a 100% loan of £200,000 with an HLC threshold of 75% might have an HLC premium of £4,000 (£50,000 x 8%). Such premiums may be paid as a one off or added to the mortgage advance.

What are land registry charges?

You pay the Land Registry to update the records they have concerning your property, such as registering you as the new owner of the property you purchase. The fees are usually paid upon application and the process is often managed by your solicitor.

The fees charged are based on the purchase price of the property - the more your property costs, the more you’ll need to pay. If your property has a higher-end value, you would expect a land registry fee of up to £500.

Transactions fall into one of two fee scales:

Scale One

  • first registrations

  • transfer of registered land for monetary consideration, such as a sale and purchase

  • lease and surrenders

  • large scale applications

Scale Two

  • transfers of registered estates not for monetary consideration

  • transfers of registered charges

  • charges of registered estates

  • other applications affecting registered estates

  • surrenders of leases not for monetary consideration

  • large scale application

More information can be found at the GOV.UK website.

What taxes are payable when buying a home?

Tax is payable when you purchase a property above a certain value. Different rates apply in different parts of the UK.

If you’re buying your home in England, Stamp Duty Land Tax and is payable for house purchases above £125,000, though first time buyers are exempt on the first £300,000 of a property worth up to £500,000. The percentage you will have to pay increases, depending on which brackets the value of your property falls into:*

  • £0 to £125,000: 0%

  • £125,001 to £250,000: 2%

  • £250,001 to £925,000: 5%

  • £925,001 to £1.5 million: 10%

  • Over £1.5 million: 12%

For example, to buy a property worth £400,000 an existing home owner would need to pay £10,000. This would consist of:

  • 0% tax on the property value up to £125,000 = £0

  • 2% tax on the property value between £125,001 and £250,000 = £2,500

  • 5% tax on the property value between £250,001 and £400,000 = £7,500

To buy a property worth £400,000 a first time buyer would need to pay £5,000. This would consist of:

  • 0% tax on the property value up to £300,000 = £0

  • 5% tax on the property value between £300,001 and £400,000 = £5,000

*This information is correct as of December 2019

What are disbursement fees when buying a house?

Disbursements don’t form part of your solicitor’s own costs or charges - they’re all the fees and taxes your solicitor will have to pay out to other organisations as part of the house-buying process. In most cases, the organisation concerned will only accept payment through a solicitor.

Some of these fees can be determined when you ask for a quote, as they are either a fixed amount or are calculated by reference to the purchase price. Other fees may depend upon other factors – councils each set their own fees for local searches and some searches only need to be made if the property is in a particular area or if the buyer wants one made.

When your solicitor collects payment for these disbursements, they’re not making any additional charge to the buyer for making the search or payment and neither do they receive any commission or discount when making payments.

These tend to include:

  • Bankruptcy search - £2 to £4 per person taking out the mortgage

  • Land Registry office copies - £4 to £8

  • Electronic ID verification - £2 to £18 per person taking out the mortgage

  • Local authority searches - £100 to £200

  • Water and drainage search - £30 to £40

  • Environmental search - £30 to £35

  • Telegraphic transfer fee - £25 to £45

  • Mortgage handling fee - £60 to £80

  • HMLR final search - £3 to £7

  • Land Registry Charge - £20 to £910

Solicitor fees for buying a house

Conveyancing fees

Mortgage broker fees

Mortgage fees

Other fees and considerations

How much does a solicitor cost when buying a house?

A solicitor or licensed conveyancer will need to carry out all the legal work when buying and selling your home - their fees vary depending on the property lawyer and your location.

Legal fees typically range from £850 to £1,500 (excluding stamp duty).¹ They’ll also do local searches to check whether there are any local plans or problems, which will cost you in the region of £250 to £300.

They tend to be broken down into standard legal fees and disbursements. Disbursements include²:

  • Bankruptcy search - £2 to £4 per person taking out the mortgage

  • Land Registry office copies - £4 to £8

  • Electronic ID verification - £2 to £18 per person taking out the mortgage

  • Local authority searches - £100 to £200

  • Water and drainage search - £30 to £40

  • Environmental search - £30 to £35

  • Telegraphic transfer fee - £25 to £45

  • Mortgage handling fee - £60 to £80

  • HMLR final search - £3 to £7

  • Land Registry Charge - £20 to £910

How and when are solicitors fees paid?

You’ll be charged a base fee - usually a few hundred pounds - for the entire case, which may be fixed or by the hour.

The conveyancing fees for handling all the standard legal aspects of the transaction are payable directly to your solicitor upon completion - this generally includes their time, registrations, and costs they’ve incurred from start to finish.

Fees to carry out the local searches will usually have to be paid upfront to your solicitor throughout the process, as and when they incur them.

How much deposit do I need to buy a house?

In the current market, you’ll need to put down a deposit of at least 5% of the property’s value. 

However, the bigger the deposit the better. A larger deposit means your mortgage repayments can be smaller (depending on the length of the repayment term you choose) and you’ll have access to more competitive deals.

In September 2019, the average property price in the UK was around £234,000.³ So if you were looking to buy a home at this price, then you’d need at least £11,700 saved for the minimum 5% deposit.

Some government schemes, such as Shared Ownership, will allow you to put down a smaller deposit. In addition to your mortgage repayments, you’ll have to pay rent on the part you don’t own.

Learn more about how much deposit you'll need to buy a house.

Property valuations

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender seeks an independent opinion on how much the property is worth.

The property valuation generally involves a review of market values and a quick check of the property. This helps the lender decide whether they’re willing to go ahead with the mortgage.

Key points to remember:

  • When you’re applying for a mortgage, the lender will get a valuation to check the value of the property.

  • You’ll generally need to pay for the valuation, so factor this in when you’re calculating costs.

  • It involves checking sale prices of comparable properties and taking a quick look at the property.

  • The valuation can impact the application decision, the amount you can borrow, and the rate you’re offered.

  • A property valuation isn’t the same as a survey, which reviews the condition of the property and identifies potential issues.

What is a property valuation?

Before a mortgage lender will approve your mortgage or remortgage application, they’ll want to check the value of your home.

They do this by commissioning a property valuation from a surveyor, which is sometimes called a mortgage valuation or a lender’s valuation.

The surveyor will look at the value of similar properties in the area, and may do a brief external and/or internal inspection of the property.

They’ll provide the lender with a short report based on this that includes their valuation and they’ll flag any significant issues with the property.

The lender uses this information to decide whether they’ll lend to you and how much they’re willing to lend.

How much does a valuation cost?

Some lenders offer mortgages with free valuations, but this isn't often the case.

The lender will arrange the valuation survey, but you’ll usually have to pay for it (see our full breakdown of mortgage fees), whether you’re taking out an initial mortgage or remortgaging.

Costs vary depending on the lender and the property, but you’ll usually pay a few hundred pounds.

Bear in mind that if the survey is carried out, you’ll be required to pay the valuation fee even if the purchase doesn’t go through.

What happens if the valuation is low?

If you’re buying a property and the lender’s valuation is lower than the price you’ve agreed to pay, you may need to renegotiate with the seller, raise more money for the deposit, or pull out of the purchase altogether.

The property valuation is important for your mortgage calculations. For example:

You’re buying a property and you’ve agreed a price of £200,000 with the seller.

You have a deposit of £50,000, therefore you have a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of 75%. However, the lender’s valuation says that the property is worth £175,000.

The lender is only willing to lend you 75% of this value, which is £131,250.

You could try negotiating with the seller to lower the purchase price, or try to make up the shortfall with a bigger deposit.

If you’re remortgaging, a low valuation can also cause problems. For example:

You bought a house three years ago for £200,000 with a deposit of £10,000.

When you come to remortgage, you have £173,000 of debt remaining. However, your lender receives a property valuation of £180,000, which means you only have £7,000 of equity in the property and your LTV is over 95%.

This may mean that the lender refuses your mortgage application, or offers you a rate that isn’t very competitive.

If the lender’s valuation identifies a serious issue with the property or if the property doesn’t fulfil all of the lender’s criteria, your mortgage application may be refused altogether.

Different lenders have different rules, but mortgage providers may refuse to lend against the property if it’s in a flood zone or if it’s in a high-rise blocks of flats, for example.

Can I challenge a valuation?

If you don’t agree with the valuation, you can try to challenge it. You can do this by providing data showing the purchase prices of similar properties, for example. And if the surveyor didn’t carry out an internal inspection of the property, you could request one if you think this may make a difference to their valuation.

Is the property valuation the same as a survey?

It’s important to understand that a property valuation is not the same as a survey.

The aim of the property valuation is to check how much the property is worth. It won’t highlight necessary repairs or possible structural problems.

When you’re buying a property, it’s important to get a homebuyer survey so that you’re aware of any issues with the building before you go ahead with the sale. If something comes up, you may be able to use this to negotiate a reduction in the purchase price.

There are several different types of survey available, and the one that’s most suitable will depend on the property you’re buying and how thoroughly you want everything checked.

Negotiating a house price

In July 2019, the average asking price for a property on the market fell by 0.2%. And with so much economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit, it’s not a given that the housing market will rebound any time soon.⁴

Here’s what to do to if you want to get yourself a deal.

How to negotiate a house price

If you’re going to make a low offer, you need to build a case for the asking price being too high. And that starts with some homework.

  • Check out how much similar homes are on the market for locally, as well as how much similar homes have recently sold for. You can do both bits of research online, with Rightmove, for example.

  • Find out how long the home’s been for sale. If it’s just come on the market, it’s unlikely that the seller will be open to negotiation. So if it’s a slow market, you could wait a few weeks, or even months, until they realise they may not sell at that price.

  • Remember to highlight your benefits as a buyer. If you’re a first-time buyer with no onward chain, you could be a more attractive proposition for a seller looking to complete the sale quickly. So make that point during your negotiations.

  • If you’re a cash buyer, a seller will probably like you even more as you won’t need to go through all the hoops of getting a mortgage. Make sure you flag that up too.

  • As for how much to offer, a general rule of thumb is 5-10% off the asking price.

How to negotiate a new-build house price

There’s often an assumption when buying a new-build that you have to pay the full asking price. But new-build developers may well be as open to negotiation as any other seller.

Again, you’ll have to do your research if you want to make a credible offer. Find out what other new-builds of a similar size are on the market for locally and what selling prices have been like.

Make sure you know how long the home’s been on the market and how many properties the developer still has to sell.

Some builders don’t always have the finances in place to finish off a development, so negotiating a quick sale could help them unlock the funds they need to complete it.

How to negotiate upgrades when buying a new home

When a developer wants to sell quickly, they may be more easily persuaded to throw in some upgrades.

In reality, it doesn’t actually cost that much for them to upgrade your kitchen or put down better flooring, as they usually buy in bulk.

So find out as much as you can about the developer and the local new-build housing market.

Sometimes a developer might be more amenable to offer you a few upgrades if you’re chain-free or have a mortgage in principle.

How to negotiate a house price down after a survey

Another chance to negotiate the price down is after you’ve had a homebuyer or full building survey done.

These types of surveys often reveal defects, and if they’re expensive to fix you’re quite justified in asking for a reduction.

Get some advice from your surveyor about how much the repairs would cost so you know how much to lower your offer by.

Stick to your guns if the problem’s serious and you still want to proceed with the purchase. If the buyer isn’t happy with your new figure, ask if you can send an expert round to give you a formal quote.

How to negotiate a house price before you exchange

An agreement to buy a home isn’t legally binding until contracts have been exchanged.

So you could try lowering your offer before you exchange.

You’ll need a good reason, though. It may have taken a particularly long time to exchange and house prices have since dropped, for example.

You’re in the strongest position to lower your offer just before exchange if you’re at the bottom of the chain as you've got nothing to sell.

Think very carefully about trying to negotiate a lower price just before exchange. It may upset the seller at a time when emotions can run very high. Don’t forget they’re not obliged to sell their home to you, so play fair.

Gazumping: What is it and what can you do about it?

What is gazumping?

Gazumping is when another buyer outbids you on the home you’re in the process of buying after your offer has been accepted, causing you to miss out on the purchase.

It’s frustrating, demoralising, and can cause whole property chains to collapse, making gazumping bad news for almost everyone involved.

Is gazumping legal?

Gazumping is legal in England. And although it's not illegal in Scotland, it's far less common. This is because most sales are completed through solicitors who are prevented from accepting more than one offer.

Even if your offer has been accepted, there’s no formal contract between yourself and the seller, so they’re under no legal obligation to stick with your offer. Sellers don’t lose out financially for choosing a higher offer, so it’s in their financial interest to go with the highest bidder.

Because contracts aren’t exchanged until fairly late in the home-buying process, homes are often still on the market for weeks while they’re ‘Under Offer (UO)’ or ‘Sold Subject to Contract’ (STC) - at which point it’s perfectly legal for someone else to make a higher offer.

Despite the seller verbally agreeing the sale, the sale isn’t formally agreed when a home is UO or STC. However, the buyer has usually still paid for conveyancing costs, surveys, and sometimes even mortgage fees. Being gazumped and losing out on the home can therefore be costly.

How to avoid gazumping

Get a Mortgage in Principle

Having a Mortgage in Principle once your offer has been accepted will help you move faster when it comes to completing the sale, keeping you ahead of the competition who may try to gazump you.

It’s a good idea to get a Mortgage in Principle before you start your search for a new home so you know how much you’re likely to be able to borrow. Having one also shows the seller and the estate agent (who both want a quick and easy sale) that in principle, you can afford the property and should be able to get a mortgage, making you a more attractive buyer and one that’s less likely to get gazumped.

Move quickly

Sellers want a quick sale, so having a buyer who is pushing the process along is a positive sign. Keep up the pressure on your solicitor and make sure you use a mortgage broker that keeps you in the picture.

Ask the seller to take the property off the market

Not all sellers will be prepared to do this, but if you’re concerned about being gazumped, it’s worth asking to take the property off the market. The seller may have had a sale fall through before and could be as keen to seal the deal as you. If you position yourself as a serious buyer and move quickly by organising a survey and starting your mortgage application, the seller will be more likely to accept your proposal.

Get gazumping insurance

Known as ‘homebuyers insurance’, this protection has the potential to save you thousands. Many buyers without insurance not only lose out on their purchase, but also lose out financially, having paid for solicitors, surveys, and valuation fees. If you’ve started to arrange your mortgage before being gazumped, you could also lose out on any mortgages fees paid to the lender.

Be aware of paying broker fees. If you do end up being gazumped, it’s more money to lose.

Buying a new build

A new build is a new property that hasn’t yet been lived in or even built. They can often still be under construction when prospective buyers snap them up.

Pros of buying a new build

  1. Blank canvas: It’s YOUR home. A new-build is a blank canvas. There’s no hideous wallpaper to strip, dodgy DIY jobs to repair, or démodé kitchens to toss into a skip.

  2. Energy efficient: New-builds can also have lower fuel costs as they’re often more energy-efficient than older properties.

  3. Security: They’re generally more secure. Locks on windows and doors conform to the latest British Standard, and many new-builds come with fitted security alarms.

  4. No more leasehold: The other good news is that the Government announced in June 2019 that leasehold agreements are to be banned on new-build houses. This will mean the end of developers taking financial advantage of leaseholders by setting crippling ground rents.

Cons of buying a new build

  1. Bigger deposit: One of the biggest disadvantages of buying a new-build is that you might need a bigger deposit because new-builds come with a price premium. Some lenders limit the amount they’re prepared to loan on new-builds, often asking for a deposit of 15% or more.

  2. Extra costs: There are also hidden costs. Expect to pay for extras such as flooring and lights which you’d expect to be included in the price.

  3. Completion dates: These can also throw a spanner in the works. Most builders have an exchange deadline from 28 to 42 days after you pay your £500 reservation fee, which can be months before the property is anywhere near completed. Most mortgage offers are valid for six months, but be prepared to speak to your lender about an extension.

  4. End of Help to Buy: You should also bear in mind that the government Help to Buy scheme for new-builds is coming to an end in 2023, pending a governmental review. From April 2021, it’ll only be available to first-time buyers where the home’s value exceeds a certain price cap (depending on location).

Buying a repossessed home

If you want to snap up a property going cheaply, buying a repossessed home could be something to consider.

A repossessed home - or repossession - is a property that’s been seized by a lender because the former owner failed to keep up with their mortgage repayments.

Repossessed homes tend to be cheaper

Once a lender repossesses a home, their priority is to sell it quickly. So they tend to set the asking price towards the lower end of the market.

This means you could get a repossessed home for up to 30% less than if it were being sold privately.

Some lenders use estate agents who tend not to openly market repossessed homes. So if you’re after one, ask if they have any available.

Repossessions can also be put up for auction. Auction houses generally advertise homes a month in advance and you’re expected to complete the purchase after 20 working days of the auction date.

The risks of buying a repossessed home

  • Lenders are legally bound to get the highest possible price for a repossessed home, which means properties aren’t taken off the market even after an offer has been accepted.

  • You could be gazumped after you’ve paid for surveys and legal work. Frustratingly, your sale could fall through if someone else offers even a little bit more.

  • There’s a higher risk of the home having hidden and serious defects, as there could be something wrong with it that prevented the previous owner from selling.

    • If the previous owner has been evicted, the home may have been vacant for a while, which also increases the chances of it being in disrepair.

  • The gas, electricity, and telephone services could have been disconnected, which is something else you’d need to sort out.

Do your homework before buying a repossessed property

If you’re thinking of buying a repossessed home it’s worth speaking to a broker, or a lender, so you have a mortgage lined up.

If you intend to buy at auction, you’ll need to get your mortgage sorted out even more quickly.

Otherwise, you might be faced with more expensive forms of finance, such as a bridging loan, while you wait for your mortgage offer to go through.

Make sure you get a survey done before you buy. It should reveal any major defects or issues, such as asbestos, so you’ll know what you’re letting yourself in for.

Buying a house at auction

If you’re tempted to buy a house at auction, it’s probably in the hope of picking up a real bargain. Get to know the facts and pros and cons before venturing to buy at auction.

Things to be aware of

Repossessions

Many homes for sale at auction are repossessions.

So bear in mind that lenders rarely do anything to prepare repossessions for sale. Some are grotty, or even uninhabitable, and you might find it harder to get a mortgage.

Know that you won’t always get a bargain

People often think they’ll get a fantastic deal at an auction, but it’s not always the case. Plenty of homes go above the guide price, especially if there’s healthy competition.

When you’re bidding, you need to be careful not to get carried away and over-extend yourself as you can’t back out if you’re successful.

So decide in advance the maximum price you’re prepared to pay and stick to it.

Get a survey done

If you’re interested in buying a home at auction, search online for auction houses near you and check out what they’ve got for sale.

Properties are generally publicly listed 30 days before an auction, so if you spot something you fancy start doing your homework straight away.

Get a structural survey done if the auction house hasn’t already arranged one. And if you don't know much about renovations, and likely costs, bring a builder you trust with you to the viewing.

Time is of the essence

If you buy a house at auction you usually need to put down a 10% deposit and often only have 20 working days to pay the purchase price.

If you don’t pay it, you’ll lose the deposit and may have to cover the costs of reselling the property, as well as the gap between the price you agreed and the final selling price.

Speak to a broker to make sure you’re able to get a mortgage and line one up as soon as you can.

Otherwise, you might have to take out an expensive bridging loan while waiting for your mortgage offer.

Online auctions

If you don’t fancy going along to an auction to buy a home, like most things these days you can do it online.

There’s much less risk of panic buying as the sale usually takes place over 30 days, and you get notified by email when there’s a bid.

Like regular auctions, there’s a reserve price, which is usually around 10% more than the starting bid.

If you’re successful, you’ll have to pay a reservation fee set by the estate agent or auction. It’s usually at least 2.5% of the purchase price, with a minimum of around £5,000.

Pros and cons of online auctions

With traditional auctions you exchange contracts immediately and pay in 20 working days. But with online auctions you have 28 days to exchange contracts and pay within another 28 days. This means you have more time to get a mortgage if you haven’t already arranged one.

There is a considerable reservation fee, which is split between the auction house and the estate agent, isn’t refundable.

The HomeOwners Alliance (HOA), which promotes the interests of Britain’s homeowners and aspiring homeowners, said that online auctions were coming under fire because people don’t understand them. ⁵

“It allows estate agents and auction platforms free rein to set the reservation fee,” HOA said. “Our investigation suggests some high-street agents are still getting to grips with how this works. This must be paid upfront by the winning bidder at the auction’s close by debit or credit card or bank transfer and can be anything upwards of 2.5% + VAT...

“People who think they’re getting a bargain may find themselves stung to the tune of several thousand pounds when they realise that paying the reservation fee is not like putting a deposit on a holiday.”

Questions to ask when buying a house

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial commitment you’ll ever make, so it’s really important to ask the right questions before making an offer.

Questions to ask before the viewing

Before arranging a viewing there are a number of questions you need to ask yourself. They’re pretty obvious, but it’s worth spelling them out to help you avoid potential problems in the future.

Look at where the home is on a map to see if it’s at risk of any of the following:

  • floods

  • landslides

  • coastal erosion

When you’ve got the major hazards out of the way, check on a map again to see if there’s anything nearby that you’re not sure about. That way you can investigate it before the viewing or ask the seller about it.

There might a pub nearby, for example, and it would be worth knowing if it’s got a beer garden as the noise might bother you.

When you make an appointment for the viewing, ask the estate agent whether the home is freehold or leasehold.

Questions to ask during the viewing

It’s useful to find out why the seller has put their home on the market, just in case there’s an issue that might put you off.

It’s also important to know:

  • how urgently the owner wants to sell

  • if they’ve already found somewhere to buy

  • whether they’ve had an offer accepted

  • if they haven’t found anywhere to buy yet, whether they’d have to find somewhere before proceeding with a sale

If the seller isn’t around for the viewing, or if you don’t want to ask them, speak to the estate agent.

If you’re still interested by the end of the viewing, ask the agent whether there have been any offers. If there have, ask what they were. If the estate agent won’t tell you, it’s always worth asking for a rough estimate. It’ll give you an indication of how much to offer.

Questions to ask when buying a new-build

If you’re thinking of buying a new-build, it’s the developer you need to speak to.

  • Find out what other developments they’ve worked on so you can check online whether there have been any significant problems with them.

  • Make sure you know when your home will be finished, if it isn’t already, and when you’re likely to be able to move in.

  • It’s really important to understand how they’ll handle any problems during and after the purchase. What will they do if cracks suddenly appear, for example?

  • It’s also worth asking how energy efficient the place is. New homes have to meet certain energy standards and you could get a better resale price with a highly rated home.

  • Check whether the home has a new home warranty. Most mortgage lenders insist that a warranty is in place if you’re buying a newly built home. Get a copy of it, take your time reading the small print and question anything you’re not clear about.

Questions to ask when buying a property off-plan

Ask the developer for a list of exactly what’s included with the home, especially when it comes to basic amenities. Will the electricity, water and sewerage systems still be connected at the point of transfer, for example?

Also, look into any long-term restrictions that could make life in your new home difficult. Will you be free to make changes to the outside of your home, for example?

Again, ask for a copy of the building warranty, study it carefully, and ask about anything that doesn’t make sense to you.

Questions to ask when buying a flat

Most flats are leasehold, though sometimes the freehold is shared with all the flat owners in the building, which is known as 'share of freehold'.

So find out which it is.

If it’s leasehold ask the estate agent or seller:

  • how many years are left on the lease (some lenders won’t give you a mortgage if it's less than 90)

  • how much the service charge is, if any

  • how much the ground rent is

  • who owns the freehold - it could be someone in the building or a landlord you never see

If it’s share of freehold ask the estate agent or seller:

  • how many years are left on the lease (some lenders won’t give you a mortgage if it's less than 90)

  • how much the service charge is, if any

  • how much the ground rent is

  • what percentage share of the freehold you’ll own

If there is a service change, find out what it covers, such as cleaning the communal hall and mowing the lawn.

If there isn’t a service change, ask how repairs and maintenance are organised and paid for.

Check how many floors the building has as there are fewer lenders who offer mortgages on blocks of flats with more than 10 storeys.

If you can’t tell from the photo, also ask whether the flat’s above commercial premises, such as a restaurant, as it may affect your chances of getting a mortgage.

It’s a good idea to know how many flats are in the building and what percentage are owner-occupied, privately rented, and owned by the council.

And don’t forget to ask about the thorny issue of parking!

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How to stand out as a homebuyer

The smaller the chain, the better

One of the reasons why buying a home can be stressful is the fact that so much of it is out of your hands.

You could be relying on selling your home, as well as other sales going through lower down the chain, which can add time and worry to the process.

So if you’re not in a chain – you might be a first-time buyer, for example – make sure you emphasise the fact when you make an offer. Your ability to move quickly will make you considerably more attractive to the seller.

The estate agent Nested can help you become chain-free if you’re selling a property. They’ll put aside a cash sum in advance of your sale, even if your home isn’t under offer yet, and give you a document as proof of your funds.¹¹

Alternatively, you could become chain-free by selling your home and renting while you’re looking for your next place.

Be realistic with your offer

When it’s a quiet market, and you don’t have much in the way of competition, there’s not much to lose by making a cheeky offer.

But if you’re in a crowded field of potential buyers you’d be better off making a realistic offer, while emphasising your advantages as a buyer, such as being chain-free.

Research what similar properties in the area have sold for to help you work out what to offer. Rightmove and Zoopla both have tools that can help you with this.¹²

Get a Mortgage in Principle

Make sure you have a Mortgage in Principle before you start looking at homes.

Sometimes called a Decision in Principle, Agreement in Principle, MIP, DIP, or AIP, it’s a document from a lender confirming they’d be happy to offer you a mortgage up to a certain amount.

It’s got nothing to do with a particular mortgage, it simply confirms that, as things stand, the lender would be open to giving you one.

“Having a MIP in place from the start of your property hunt can be helpful, as it shows sellers that you’re a serious buyer,” said Joe Gaytten, a Mortgage Adviser at Trussle.

“What’s more, it also gives them an element of confidence that you’ll be able to afford to buy the property.”

Proof of deposit

As well as showing that you’re likely to be able to get a mortgage, it can also help to prove that you have a deposit.

So if you’re relying on a helping hand from a loved one, and have other money scattered across a number of accounts, bring it all together in one place so it’s easier to show you have the funds.

Cosy up to estate agents

Estate agents may be working for the seller, but they can be a great ally to you as a buyer.

If you’ve got a good relationship with them, they’ll be more inclined to tell you about properties that are about to come onto the market, which you might be able to see first.

So keep in regular touch with estate agents by phone or email in between viewings, as it’ll show how keen you are to find your dream home.

If you’ve shown them you’re a committed buyer, they’re more likely to be enthusiastic about your offer when they present it to the sellers.

And hopefully, yours will be the one the buyers choose.

What surveys are carried out when buying a home?

There are three main types of surveys that can be carried out by a surveyor:

A mortgage survey or valuation (mandatory): Carried out for the benefit of the lender, a valuation is designed to give them sufficient information to decide whether the property is safe to lend on and up to what amount. 

It can also give you a rough idea of whether you’re paying the right amount for a property. It’s limited in scope and only likely to uncover obvious visible defects and is based on the surveyor's knowledge of comparable prices in the locality.

A home-buyer’s valuation (optional): A more detailed survey which can alert you to potential problems before you buy, such as structural defects, shabby brickwork, or a broken down boiler. 

It can pay to invest in a full home-buyer report before you put in an offer. The cost generally ranges from £250 to £400.⁶

A building survey (optional): This is the most comprehensive of the surveys available, providing a detailed evaluation of a property’s condition and construction. Especially useful for older, larger buildings, the report will identify the property’s defects, their apparent cause, the urgency of repair, and maintenance options. It’s a good choice for the discerning buyer who wants that extra peace of mind. You can expect to pay around £1,000 for a survey of this kind.⁷

Do I need to appoint a solicitor when buying a house?

Whether purchasing, selling, or remortgaging a property, you’ll require a solicitor or conveyancer (a specialist property lawyer) to handle the legal work both for you and your mortgage lender. 

They’ll help you from the time that your mortgage offer is accepted by the lender, through to the completion of the sale and beyond (if there are any loose ends that need tying up).

Many mortgage brokers will recommend a conveyancer for you, but you are free to find your own conveyancer if you prefer. Be sure to check with your mortgage lender if you decide to pick your own conveyancer. Every lender has a different list of approved conveyancers.

The solicitor will:

  • conduct appropriate searches and enquiries

  • prepare a contract for the sale

  • complete the legal transfer of ownership

  • transfer funds

  • register the interests of relevant parties (you and the lender) on the property you’re buying

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