A complete guide to buying a home

The process of buying a house can take months, but knowing what to do and where to get help could make it quicker and easier. Here is what to do when you buy a home.

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A complete guide to buying a home

Think carefully before securing other debts against your home. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage or any other debt secured on it.

Decide if you should buy a home

Make sure that buying a property suits your plans and your finances:

  • Check you can afford a home by ensuring you can commit to the monthly mortgage payments and pay the initial costs, which can come to thousands of pounds

  • Work out if buying or renting suits your plans for the future and how long you want to stay in your new home

Work out what you can afford

Decide how much you can afford to spend on a home before you start looking. Check your income, outgoings and how much you have saved to work out how much you can afford for:

  • The fees and costs you have to pay when you buy a home. Here is how much it costs to buy a home.

  • A mortgage, which will determine how much you can spend on your new home.

You can work out how much you are likely to be able to borrow using our mortgage affordability calculator.

You will also need a deposit when you buy a property, which is the amount you put towards the purchase yourself. You can pay for this by:

Selling your current home

If you already own a home, your equity in it is the share of your property you currently own.

When you sell your home, some of the amount you get can be used to clear the balance of your old mortgage. You can use the rest towards the deposit on your new home.

You can work out how much this is likely to be by getting a valuation of your current home and subtracting the amount outstanding on your mortgage.

Work out how much equity you have in your home

Saving a deposit

If you do not own your own home, you will need to save up for a deposit. Here is how to save a mortgage deposit and how to work out how much you need.

Decide what kind of property you want

Narrow down the properties you look at by deciding on:

  • The areas you would like to live in

  • If you want a house, a flat or another property type

  • How many bedrooms you need

  • If you need a garden

  • If you need your own parking space

  • If you need to be near good schools

  • If you need to be near public transport links

  • How much redecoration or renovation you can do

You can start getting ideas by looking at property websites like Zoopla.

Sell your old home

If you already own your home, you usually need to sell it at the same time you buy your new property.

It usually takes two to three months to sell a house. It can take longer in some cases, especially if it relies on a chain of other sales to go through.

Here is everything you need to know to sell your home.

Find a mortgage

There are several mortgage types that come with different types of interest rate and are suitable for different purposes and borrowers.

Here is how to choose which type of mortgage suits your finances, plans and circumstances.

You can then use our mortgage comparisons to find the right deal.

How to find your first mortgage

Do you need a broker?

Get a mortgage in principle

Once you find the mortgage you want, you can apply for it before you make an offer on a property.

You can get a decision and a mortgage offer from a lender, which will confirm how much they are willing to lend you. This is called a mortgage in principle.

You can skip getting a mortgage in principle and wait until you have an offer on a property accepted before you apply for a mortgage.

However, having a mortgage offer in place means:

  • You know exactly how much you can borrow, which means you can only look at properties you could get a mortgage for.

  • Estate agents are more likely to take your offer to buy a property seriously because it proves you could afford it and complete the sale more quickly. Some agents will only agree to take the property off the market if you have a mortgage offer already.

How to apply for a mortgage in principle

View properties

You can find homes for sale:

  • Online

  • By visiting estate agents

  • In newspapers

  • Through word of mouth

  • By looking around the area you want to buy in

You can look around a property you are interested in to decide if you want to buy it. As well as checking you like the area it is in and how it looks, you can also make sure it is worth the asking price and has no structural problems.

The first viewing should help you rule out any unsuitable properties, but look at any that you like at least one more time before you decide to buy.

View the property at a different time of day and bring along friends or relatives to get a second opinion.

Here is everything you need to look for when you view a property

Make an offer

When you find a property you would like to buy, you can put in an offer to begin the negotiations with the seller.

Decide how much to offer

You can offer less than the asking price because most sellers will not expect to get this full amount when they sell. When you decide how much to offer, consider:

  • How long the property has been for sale

  • Its condition, any repairs needed and if fittings like curtains are included

  • If other properties in the area have sold for less

Contact the seller

  • Phone the estate agent or seller to make your offer

  • Mention any specific issues, such as repairs you need to pay for, that have brought down the amount you chose

  • The estate agent usually calls you back with a response from the seller

  • If the offer is rejected, decide whether you want to increase it

  • Alternatively, you could ask to leave your offer on the table, meaning they can choose to accept it later if they fail to find another buyer

If the offer is accepted, ask for them to take the property off the market to avoid another buyer putting in a higher offer.

How to haggle down a house price

Complete your mortgage application

If you did not get a mortgage in principle before, you will need to find a mortgage and apply for it.

If you have a mortgage offer in place, you need to give your lender details of the property you want to buy, including:

  • The address

  • The price you have agreed to pay

  • The type of property

Before your lender agrees to offer you the mortgage, they will check:

  • How much the house is worth: Your lender will carry out a valuation to make sure it is worth the amount you intend to pay for it. If it is valued at less than this price, you may need a bigger deposit to get accepted.

  • If you can afford the mortgage: They will check your credit record, bank statements and the details you provide on your application form to decide if you could keep up with repayments.

Appoint a solicitor

When you buy a home, you can appoint a solicitor to handle conveyancing, which is the legal process of passing ownership of a property from one person to another. This includes:

  • Drawing up the contracts

  • Exchanging contracts with the seller's solicitor

  • Transferring documents like title deeds into your name

  • Sending funds to make the purchase

  • Checking survey reports and local authority searches to find any problems with the property or the purchase

Although the estate agent may recommend a solicitor, you can choose one yourself. Ask friends or family that moved recently for a recommendation or find a solicitor using the search function on the Law Society's website. Look for one based nearby that specialises in property purchases.

Get a home survey

This is a check of the value of the property you want to buy and its condition. Surveys can be carried out by a qualified expert called a chartered surveyor. You can read their report to look for any unforeseen issues and costs.

Your lender will arrange a valuation of the property, but you can either ask them to arrange a more extensive survey for you or find a surveyor yourself. This usually costs between £350 and £2,000 depending on the property and the level of survey you want. You can get:

  • A condition report, which is the cheapest option and does not include a valuation or any advice. You receive a basic traffic light rating of each part of the building.

  • A homebuyer report often includes a valuation of the property and guidance on issues like subsidence and damp.

  • A full structural survey gives more detailed information on the property's condition, including hidden defects and potential problems. It also gives guidance on how much it could cost to fix any problems.

Ask friends and family for recommendations before you appoint a surveyor, and check that they are registered with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Exchange contracts

When your mortgage has been approved and you are ready to make the purchase, your solicitor will exchange contracts of sale with the seller's solicitor.

Once this has been done, your agreement to buy the property is legally binding.

Your solicitor will then transfer the deposit to the seller and you can agree a date for completion of the sale. You will also need to pay stamp duty at this point.


The completion date is the day you legally own your new home. The seller must leave the property, the funds are transferred to them from your mortgage company and you are given the keys and the title deeds for the property.

Find insurance

This can protect your home and your belongings if anything goes wrong:

  • Buildings insurance: This covers your home's structure from a range of things that could damage it. Most mortgages are only available if you take out buildings insurance too.

  • Contents insurance: This covers your possessions from loss, theft and damage.

Alternatively, you can get home insurance policies that cover both your contents and your building.

You should also consider getting an income protection policy, which will pay you an income to cover your outgoings should you become unable to work for a prolonged period of time.

Move in

Before the day you move, you may need to:

  • Book time off work

  • Rent a van or book a removals company to move your possessions to your new home

  • Clean your old home

  • Cancel any bills

  • Let people and companies know your new address

Here is everything you need to do before you move house

Set up utilities

Once you own a property, you will be responsible for paying bills including:

  • Council tax

  • Electricity

  • Gas

  • Water

  • Internet, phone and TV

Our property guides cover every aspect of setting up your utilities and bills, choosing the best supplier and saving money.

If you're a first time buyer or looking to move house or remortgage, we can help you find the best mortgage deal to suit your needs.

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