Home buying process – steps to buying a new house or flat

Buying a home is a huge financial commitment and can be daunting – especially if you’re a first time buyer. Use our timeline to find out more about the steps to buying a home, including the process, key stages and what fees to expect.

This timeline applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you’re in Scotland, read Buying property in Scotland – a money timeline.

Stage 1 – Finding a property you can afford

Our Mortgage affordability calculator will give you an estimate of how much you can borrow based on your income and outgoings.

Before you start house-hunting, it’s a good idea to work out what you can afford to spend on buying a house or a flat and your monthly mortgage payments.

Think about costs

Consider how you will cope if your financial situation changes, or interest rates rise, and be careful not to overstretch yourself.

Remember your savings will have to cover not just the deposit, but expenses such as mortgage fees (typically anything between £0-£2000) and Stamp Duty on properties costing more than £125,000. See below for the Stamp Duty rates.

How much can you afford to borrow? Find out the costs you should take into account.
It helps to know more about what to look for in a property in order to Avoid costly mistakes.

Choosing the right mortgage

It’s never too early for you to start thinking about arranging a mortgage as this can be time-consuming. You can get a mortgage from an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA), mortgage broker or lender.

Once you’ve found a mortgage, agree a mortgage ‘in principle’. This tells you how much money the lender is likely to offer and the interest rate you will pay.

You may have to pay a booking fee to reserve the mortgage product you want. Typical cost: £99-£250

Find out more in Mortgage fees and costs.
If you think you may need help with a deposit, read our guide to Affordable home buying schemes.

Check your credit report

Before you apply for a mortgage, check your credit report for any errors and to get an idea of your score. Lenders will look at it when considering your application.

Stage 2 – Making an offer

Once you’ve found a home you want to buy, the next step is to make an offer, usually through an estate agent.

You only pay for an estate agent if you’re selling property, with the fees usually ranging from 0.5% to 3%, plus VAT, of the selling price.

Find out more about what to expect in How to buy and sell a home through estate agents.

Stage 3 – Organise a solicitor and surveyor

The solicitor will handle the legal work around the property and the surveyor will survey the property to check for problems, which might impact on the cost of the home.

Your solicitor will tell you how much you can expect to pay and may ask for a deposit upfront – this is typically 10% of their fee. Typical cost: £500-£1,500 + 20% VAT

Your solicitor submits searches to the local council to check whether there are any planning or local issues that might affect the property’s value. Typical cost: £250-£300

Find the right solicitor or conveyancer explains what solicitors and surveyors do in the property buying process.

Valuation survey

This is carried out by the lender to make sure the property is worth the price you’re paying before they approve the mortgage.

It is not an extensive survey and will not identify all the repairs or maintenance that might be needed. Typical cost: £150-£1,500 depending on the value of property. Some lenders may not charge you for this, depending on the type of mortgage product you select.

The property survey

Home buyers who didn’t have the right survey faced a £5,750 bill on average after moving in, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Source: RICS).

You should commission a survey on the property to help you avoid hidden costly problems further down the line.

It’s your property, so it’s in your interest to pay for a decent survey at this stage. It can also help you to renegotiate the price.

For example, if the survey reveals a problem with the home that will need £5,000 to pay for repairs, you could ask the seller to lower the price by that much.

There are several types of survey available:

  • RICS Condition Report – basic ‘traffic light’ survey and the cheapest. It is most suitable for new-build and conventional homes in good condition. No advice or valuation is provided in this survey. Cost: £250.
  • RICS Homebuyer report – suitable for conventional properties in reasonable condition. This is a much more detailed survey, looking thoroughly inside and outside a property. It also includes a valuation. Typical cost: £400+.
  • Building or structural survey - the most comprehensive survey and suitable for all residential properties. It’s particularly good for older homes or homes that may need repairs. Typical cost: £600+.
Read our Who’s who guideopens in new window to buying a home.

Stage 4 – Finalising the offer and mortgage

Once the survey is complete you may want to go back and renegotiate the price of your new home. There are two reasons for this:

  • The lender may value the property at a lower price leaving you with a shortfall, meaning you won’t be able to match the asking price or what you originally intended to offer.
  • Your survey may uncover problems with the property that will be expensive to fix. You can use this information to ask for a reduction in price.

It’s this stage in the process that is often most stressful. Delays and problems can arise from a variety of situations, such as:

  • The seller withdraws the property from the market.
  • The seller accepts a higher offer from another buyer (known as ‘gazumping’).
  • Your mortgage application is rejected.

Communication is important when things go wrong

When problems crop up, it’s worth making the effort to stay in touch with the seller via your solicitor and estate agent. It’s often possible to rescue the situation by keeping the lines of communication open.

Finalising your mortgage

If everything has gone according to plan, contact your lender or mortgage adviser to proceed. There is often a fee, usually called an arrangement fee, to set up the mortgage.

This can be added to your mortgage, but if you choose this option bear in mind you’ll pay interest on it for the length of the mortgage. Typical cost: £0-£2,000.

Your mortgage lender must give you at least 7 days, once a binding mortgage offer has been made to think about if this is the right mortgage for you. You can use this time to compare this offer with other mortgages.

If you’re sure that this is the right mortgage for you, you can let them know sooner that you want to go ahead.

It’s still not too late to change your mind

It is better to pull out rather than risk buying a property which may cost you more than you can afford in the long run.

If you decide not to buy, you can pull out and cancel your mortgage application before you have exchanged contracts.

But you may lose some of your money depending on how far you have gone in the process.

Stage 5 – Exchanging contracts

If there are no problems or delays, then you should receive the contract to sign and complete the sale.

Before signing the contract, go through it with your solicitor to check that all the details are correct. Make sure you are happy with what the sellers have agreed to leave in the property and that all your queries have been answered.

At this stage, you and the seller are committed to the sale. You may also be asked by the seller to pay a holding deposit – typically £500-£1000 to show serious intent.

Once you’ve exchanged contracts you’ll need buildings insurance in place to cover the structure of the property.

Stage 6 – Completion and final steps

Work out your bill with the Stamp Duty calculator.

  • The remaining money owed to buy the property is now transferred from your solicitor’s account to the seller’s solicitor’s account. Since some of the money comes from the mortgage provider there will be a Telegraphic Transfer Fee. Typical cost: £25-£50.
  • You may also have to pay a mortgage account fee. This fee is charged by the lender for setting up, maintaining and closing down your mortgage account. It is often added to the mortgage, which means you’ll pay interest on it, so consider paying it up front instead. Cost: £100-£300.
  • You’ll now need to pay your solicitor’s bill (minus the deposit and local searches if you’ve already paid them). Typical cost: £500-£1,500 plus 20% VAT.
  • Your solicitor will register the sale with the Land Registry for properties in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland it needs to be registered with Land and Property Services and in Scotland with Registers of Scotland – see Buying a property in Scotland – a money timeline for more information. The cost of this will depend on the price of the property.
  • Sellers will need to pay their estate agent on completion. The fee is agreed at the outset and is typically a percentage of the purchase price, usually 1% to 3% of the sale price plus 20% VAT. Buyers don’t have any estate agent fees.
  • Buyers of residential homes costing over £125,000 have 30 days from the completion date to pay Stamp Duty. Your solicitor will usually arrange this for you.
  • If you’re using a removal company, moving on a weekday is cheaper. Typical cost: £300-£600+.

Stamp Duty rates

If you’re purchasing an additional home or a buy-to-let property, you’ll have to pay an extra 3% on top of each Stamp Duty band.

Your next step

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