Buying a House
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Your guide to the process of buying a house

The process of buying a house can be complicated and, at certain points, quite stressful. But understanding what to expect at each stage can really help.

In this guide, we take you through each step of buying a property, explaining what you can expect alongside some great tips to make each stage easier.

What are the stages of buying a house?

There are several major stages of buying a house and each can feel like a huge milestone towards owning your own home:

1. Save your deposit

Saving a deposit is the first step towards buying a property.

While it’s technically possible to buy a house without a deposit, mortgages that cover 100% of a property’s purchase price are rare.

Most lenders will insist that you provide a deposit of at least 10% of a property’s value, although mortgages are available with a 5% deposit.

Saving a deposit can be tough, but the more you can save, the better.

A larger deposit means:

  • You may be able to access cheaper mortgage deals
  • You may be borrowing less, so your monthly repayments will be cheaper
  • You’ll have more immediate equity in your home, reducing the risk of negative equity should prices fall

Top tip: Factor in additional moving costs

As well as saving your deposit, you’ll also need to budget for additional costs that come with buying a home, including:

  • Legal fees
  • Survey fees
  • Mortgage fees
  • Insurance
  • Stamp duty

Stamp duty is often the biggest additional cost, but if you’re a first-time buyer, you’ll pay no stamp duty on the first £300,000 of your property’s purchase price, up to a maximum of £500,000.

2. Establish what you can borrow

If you’re buying with a mortgage, the second step towards your purchase is establishing how much you can borrow.

The best place to start is a mortgage broker, who will be able to give you a great idea of your borrowing potential.

What you can borrow will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your annual earnings
  • Your debt
  • Your credit history

To buy a house, you’ll generally need a credit score of at least 620 to qualify for a lender’s best terms.

While it’s possible to buy a house with bad credit, you may have to pay a higher interest rate and your lender may only be prepared to loan you a lower percentage of your property’s purchase price.

Top tip: Get an agreement in principle

A mortgage agreement in principle is an indication of what a lender is prepared to loan you, on condition of you completing a successful mortgage application.

Agreements in principle often take less than an hour to complete and we recommend you get an updated AIP every month or two during your search in case your borrowing potential is affected by changes to interest rates.

Having an AIP shows you’re a serious buyer and that you have the potential to borrow what you need, which puts you in a strong position when negotiating with a seller later in the process.

3. Start looking at areas to live

Take some time to explore potential areas you might want to live in – even if you’re already living nearby.

Look around at different times of the day and speak to the local estate agent to see how much demand there is for properties in the area and what they’re selling for.

Search our areas guides

Top tip: Think about the future

Before deciding on an area to live, think carefully about what you’ll need in the future as well as the here and now.

Think about:

  • School catchment areas should you have children in the future
  • Transport links to other towns and cities should you move jobs
  • Plans for new developments if you decide to move again in the future

4. Search for properties online

Once you’ve established the area you want to live in, it’s time to start looking for potential properties to buy.

Start searching through the online property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla and make sure you only search for properties up to the top of your budget.

If you’re struggling to find properties that interest you, consider widening your search area slightly.

Once you’ve found properties you’d like to view in person, contact the estate agent to make the arrangements.

Search our latest homes

Top tip: Register with your local agent

Before you start searching for properties online, register your details with estate agents in the area you’re looking to buy.

Try to build some rapport with the agents and sell yourself as a buyer who wants to progress quickly.

That way, when new properties come on to the market, the agent may contact you before listing them online.

5. Start viewing properties

While online listings can give you a great idea of a property’s suitability for your needs, there’s no substitute for viewing in person.

When you find a property you like, contact the agent, and arrange to have a viewing.

The viewing is your opportunity to look at:

  • The size and layout of a property
  • It’s condition and scope for improvement
  • How the property’s condition compares with its asking price

A viewing is also your chance to find out as much as you can about the property and the seller’s situation from the estate agent.

Multiple viewings are recommended, as it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of a viewing first time around.

By looking a second time, you’ll be able to take a more practical approach and consider whether the property works for you.

Top tip: Get a second opinion

Consider taking someone else with you on your second viewing.

A relative or friend can give you a completely unbiased view on the property you’re looking at, as well as being a fresh pair of eyes that could spot any potential issues you may have missed.

6. Make an offer on your dream home

Once you’ve found a property you love, it’s time to make an offer.

Making an offer on a property can be daunting and it can be difficult knowing where to pitch your opening bid.

To weigh up your opening offer, consider:

  • What other, similar properties in the area have been selling for
  • How much interest there is in the property from other buyers
  • How much you would want to spend on making improvements

When you’ve reached a figure you’re comfortable with, make your offer to the seller’s estate agent, either over the phone or in person.

Follow up your offer with an email confirming the details, too, and request that the property is taken off the market if you’re offer is accepted.

Top tip: Sell yourself

Sellers are attracted to buyers who have no property to sell, especially first-time buyers.

If you’re not in a chain and can progress quickly, make sure you make your seller’s estate agent aware of this when you make an offer.

If your seller needs to move quickly, they may be prepared to accept your offer over a higher one if you’re able to progress faster than a rival buyer.

7. Arrange a solicitor or conveyancer

Conveyancing is a key part of any property purchase – and the sooner you can arrange your solicitor or conveyancer, the better.

Solicitors and property conveyancers can become booked up, so as soon as your offer is accepted, arrange who you’re going to use to complete the legal work on your purchase.

Legal fees for conveyancing can vary but your solicitor or conveyancer should be able to provide you with a breakdown of their costs so you can budget effectively.

Top tip: Seek recommendations

Proactive conveyancing is crucial to keep your property purchase moving.

So, seek recommendations from family or friends who have good experiences using a solicitor or conveyancer for their own property purchases and speak to your local estate agent, who is very likely to know the conveyancers in their area who work most efficiently.

Related: Your guide to conveyancing in England

8. Complete your mortgage application

Once your offer is accepted, you can complete your mortgage application.

Think carefully about the type of mortgage you want and speak to a broker who may be able to access the best deals.

Types of mortgages you can consider include:

  • Fixed rate mortgages
  • Tracker mortgages
  • Discounted mortgages

A fixed rate mortgage may suit you if you want fixed monthly payments for several years.

Tracker and discounted rate mortgages come with variable interest rates, which mean your payments could go up or down in line with the Bank of England’s base interest rate.

You’ll also need to think about your mortgage term, which can also affect your monthly repayments.

Speak to a mortgage broker

Top tip: Get your documents in order in advance

To complete your mortgage application, you’ll need to provide your lender with a host of documents, including:

  • Passport or driving licence for proof of identity
  • A utility bill for proof of address
  • Bank statements showing incoming and outgoing money
  • Evidence of your deposit
  • Payslips and a P60 proving employed income
  • An SA302 tax calculation or company accounts proving self-employed income

Get these documents in order at the start of your property search so you can supply them quickly once your offer is accepted.

9. Get a survey

Property surveys are optional but highly recommended, as having one will tell you more about the condition of the property you’re buying.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) provides three levels of survey:

  • Home Survey – Level 1
  • Home Survey – Level 2
  • Home Survey – Level 3

The Level 1 survey is a very basic look at the property and is suitable for newer homes, while a Level 3 survey is a full structural examination and is suitable for older or period properties.

Top tip: A valuation is not a survey

A survey is often confused with a mortgage lender’s valuation.

A property survey is arranged by you and looks at the condition of the property you’re buying.

A valuation report is arranged by your lender and confirms that the property is worth the money they’re lending you through a mortgage.

10. Exchange contracts

When your solicitor or conveyancer and the seller’s legal representative have completed all their work, you’ll be ready to exchange contracts.

To exchange, the conveyancers will need to have completed all enquiries and searches and you’ll need to have your mortgage offer in place along with your deposit.

Once contracts are exchanged, which is usually done over the phone, your purchase becomes legally binding, which is a huge milestone.

Top tip: Arrange buildings insurance in advance

As soon as contracts are exchanged, your purchase is legally binding, so you should ensure you have a buildings insurance policy in place on your new home from the date of exchange.

Your mortgage lender will insist on this and your conveyancer won’t be able to exchange contracts without it, so as soon as you have your exchange date, make these arrangements.

11. Look at removals options

Like solicitors and conveyancers, removals companies can become booked up.

So, if you’re planning to use a removals firm to move your belongings into your new home, try to arrange this as early as you can once you have a moving date.

The cost of removals will depend on:

  • The distance you’re moving
  • The belongings you have, and size of van required
  • The number of staff required to complete the move

Top tip: Shop around for deals

Removals companies tend to be busier in spring and early summer, while autumn and winter are quieter times for home moves.

Depending on the time of year you’re moving, don’t be afraid to negotiate with your removals company and always shop around for deals in the quieter months.

12. Completion and moving in

Your completion date will be agreed when your solicitor exchanges contracts with the seller’s legal representative.

Once you have that date, which is usually a week or two weeks after exchange of contracts, you can book your removals company and start packing up your belongings.

On your completion day, all remaining money will be transferred to your seller at which point their estate agent will hand you the keys to your new home.

Top tip: Pack a moving day survival kit

Moving day can be stressful and extremely tiring.

So, remember to pack a bag containing some key essentials, such as:

  • Phone and charger
  • Bottled water
  • First aid kit
  • Change of clothes
  • Toiletries
  • Snacks
  • Small toolkit and torch
  • Medicines you need
  • Credit and debit cards
  • Cash

This means you won’t have to spend time rummaging through dozens of boxes once you’re moved in.

Further reading…

Still have questions? Contact your local CJ Hole branch today.

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