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 and decorate it to your personal taste, without having to ask permission from a landlord first.

Setbacks

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 maybe 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? 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 looking at 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 considering and 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 and keep 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, although this can vary from person to person depending on a range of things such as 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 three 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 £234,000.² 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.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How do I show proof of address?

It’s worth noting that proof of identity and address verification can’t be from the same source.

Read our blog post about what documents you need when applying for a mortgage for more information on what you'll be expected to provide.

Acceptable forms of proof of address include:

  • Recent utility bill – gas, electricity, water, telephone (not mobile phones)

  • Current council tax bill

  • Current full UK driving licence (paper document)

  • Current UK / EU photocard driving licence with counterpart

  • House or motor insurance certificate

  • Current state pension notification letter

  • Current benefits agency letter

  • Bank / building society statement

  • Credit card statements from main provider (a credit card statement can be used as a second proof of address only by these providers: Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Halifax Bank of Scotland Group, HSBC, Abbey, Nationwide, Woolwich, Alliance and Leicester, Citibank, Morgan Stanley)

  • HMRC Tax notification documentation (excluding P60’s), account, investment, or insurance documents

  • Written correspondence from the Council to confirm electoral roll listing

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 £400.³

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.⁴

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

My mortgage application has been accepted. Can I relax?

Once your mortgage has been approved, you’re still at the early stages of the property purchase and will be able to pull out without facing a financial penalty. Additionally, the seller can still decide to take a higher offer from somebody else (known as ‘gazumping’) or choose to not move at all.

Read through our section about the house buying process above for further details about what follows the mortgage approval stage.

Do I need to find a property before getting a mortgage?

You can’t buy a home without a mortgage, but you can’t get a mortgage until you're ready to buy a home. If you’re looking at properties to buy before starting to arrange your mortgage, you’ll need to take a step back and secure a mortgage in principle.

Arranging your mortgage as early as possible and having a mortgage in principle can give you an advantage over rival buyers who haven’t done the same.

Knowing how much you can afford will ensure there’s one less possible delay that could derail the home buying process. If you’re thinking about buying jointly with anyone - be it a partner, friend, or parent - then this’ll affect the kind of mortgage you can get and how much you can borrow. Just another reason to sort this out before you start looking for a home.

Further resources

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