The process of buying a house in England and Wales – a step-by-step guide

  • 7th Mar 2022
  • 5 minute read
  • Written by Ellie New
The process of buying a house in England and Wales – a step-by-step guide

Step 1 – Establish your budget and moving costs

Before you set off on your home-hunting adventure, it’s important to know what’s in budget, so you don’t waste your time. Moving costs also need to be factored into your decision with the likes of legal fees, lender fees, and removal fees. There’s lots to consider. Start by speaking to a mortgage advisor, the amount a mortgage provider will lend you depends on a number of factors including your deposit, your income and credit score, the property you’re looking at purchasing will also be a consideration in whether the lender will give you a mortgage. If you’re buying with someone else, the lender will also consider their finances. 

If you already own a property with a mortgage, it’s important to start a conversation with your lender to see if your mortgage is portable and if there are any additional costs attached.

Step 2 – Apply for a mortgage agreement in principle

Once you’re aware of what your budget is, your mortgage broker or will create a mortgage agreement in principle, often referred to as an AIP. This is given based on the set of circumstance you have provided to the lender; this is subject to change if your situation changes. Having an agreement in principle not only helps you establish which properties are in your budget, it also can make you a more attractive buyer as it shows the seller and estate agent that you can secure the amount of money needed to buy the home.

If you’re a first-time buyer, having your AIP sorted and nothing to sell will almost always push you to the front of the queue as you’re chain free. If you are selling a property, it’s also important to have this in place, as well as already having sold your current home, as the sale value of your property will play a large factor how much you can borrow.

Step 3 – Start searching for a property

It’s time to start the search for your new home now that you’ve got everything ironed out. You’ll probably spend lots of time browsing property portals like Rightmove, Zoopla and Boomin.

Take a look at our guide ‘What to consider when buying a house ‘ for our top tips.

Step 4 – Arrange a viewing

So, you’ve found a home you’re interested in viewing. Sometimes getting a viewing can be tricky if the property is popular. The estate agent may ask you if you have an AIP to ensure that you’re not wasting their sellers’ time, and what your buying position is to establish whether you have something to sell or if you’re in a chain.

Before you view the property, try to drive by to get a feel for what the area is like. It’s worth doing this both day and night. If you’re unable to do this, you could look at the property on Google Maps and view the area that way. If there are questions, you may want to ask about the property — write them down as you could forget about them during the viewing. Make sure you have a thorough look and keep an eye out for signs or damp tide marks or peeling paint.

Step 5 – Make an offer

Now that you’ve found your ideal home you want to put in an offer — but how do you do this? To make an offer on a property, you should make the offer through the estate agent via written communication, never directly to the seller except in the rare case that the seller may be representing themselves. You can expect there may be some negotiation, as the seller is trying to get the best price for their home. Also, remember that other people may also be bidding on the home.

If the offer is rejected, this can be very upsetting and frustrating and, based on why the offer was rejected, you may be able to renegotiate or you may have to walk away and start again.

Step 6 – Instruct a solicitor

Once your offer has been accepted, it’s time to get the wheels in motion and instruct a conveyancing solicitor (someone who specialises in property law), ideally you want to do this as quickly as you can. If you’re selling a property too, it can be easier to have the same solicitor looking after your sale and purchase, but you don’t have to.

A solicitor ensures that your purchase is legit and ensures that when the property is sold and transferred into your name, and that no one can take it off you.

The cost of instructing a solicitor can be anywhere from around £800 – £1500 or if the purchase is complicated, it can be more than this.

Step 7 – Apply for a mortgage

At the same time, you instruct your solicitor you’ll also want to get your mortgage finalised. Get in contact with your mortgage broker. There’s often a fee, usually called an arrangement fee, to get the mortgage set up. This can be added to the overall mortgage, but you will have to pay it off with the overall cost of the mortgage. The mortgage lender will conduct a valuation on the property you intend to buy. This confirms to them that the property is worth what you intend to pay for it.

Step 8 – Arrange a survey

There are around 4 different surveys you can have done on the home you’re buying, which all vary in the level of detail. The surveys are used to find out whether the property has any issues with damp, subsidence, or anything that doesn’t meet building regulations. The cost of a survey is usually minor compared to the cost of sorting out structural issues.   

It’s important to note that your mortgage valuation is different is not a survey. The mortgage lender has carried out a basic valuation to assure itself that they are happy to lend on the property. But this doesn’t give you any protection. Unless you’re an expert, it’s always worthwhile getting a professional opinion survey as they can protect you from buying something you might lose money on.

If your survey highlights any significant issues that could be costly to fix, you may want to think about renegotiating the asking price.

Step 9 – Arrange the necessary insurance

Building and contents insurance is a policy that pays out if your home and belongings are destroyed. Your mortgage lender will insist that you have it and it may even be a requirement for the mortgage. You should ensure that the cover begins on the day you exchange contracts, as once you’ve exchanged legally the property is your responsibility.

With a new build home depending on your mortgage lender, you may not need to get building insurance until you complete as the developer may insure the home until completion. However, it’s worth double checking this with your solicitor.

Step 10 – Sign and exchange contracts

Before signing the contract, go through it with your solicitor to check all the details are correct. Make sure you’re happy with what the sellers have agreed to leave in the property. It’s important to make sure any questions or concerns you may have, have been answered. At this stage, both you and the seller are legally committed to the sale.

You can now start arranging your move. Use our moving house checklist to make your move totally easy.

Step 11 – Book a removal company

Once you’ve exchanged contracts and have an idea what your completion date will be, it’s a good idea to gather quotes for different removal companies. Although packing and moving your stuff may not sound complicated, there is a knack for making sure fragile items are properly protected and don’t get damaged in transit. Factors that usually determine the cost of using a removals company are the amount of things being transported, the size of the removals crew, the speed of packing, and the destination you’re moving to. Ideally, you want to gather around 3 quotes from different companies. Make sure you read reviews online too and do your homework to ensure the company is who they say they are.

Step 12 – Completion

Completion day is the final step in your home buying process.

On completion day, your solicitor will confirm the transaction, deal with paperwork and deeds. If you’re the seller, they’ll also sign off mortgage completion statements. As soon as the money has been received, the seller’s solicitor will inform the estate agent and the keys will be released. They’ll also make sure any charges are paid. Now you can start celebrating as the property is yours!

For more information around completion day, use our easy guide.

The house buying process in Scotland

If you’re looking at buying a home in Scotland, the purchasing process is different from England and Wales. Check out our blog for buying a home in Scotland.

How long is the process of buying a house?

Generally, to buy a home according to property portal Zoopla, it takes around 6 to 12 weeks. The longest part of the process is finding ‘the one’ and then the conveyancing process. It also depends on how long the chain is.

Process of buying a new build home

A new build property is a property that is brand new and hasn’t been lived in. The process differs slightly as you may buy the property off plan (before it’s built) and you might be able to select certain fixtures and fittings. You may not deal with an estate agent either. The developer could have their own sales team you speak to directly. Also, you may have to wait longer if you’re waiting for the home to be built.

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