Buying a house: A timeline

From location research to finance, signing contracts and moving in, we can guide you through the entire home buying journey.

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Think carefully before securing other debts against your home. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.
Buying a property is probably the biggest financial decision most people make in their life. It’s a complex, nerve-wracking process requiring a thousand decisions big and small along the way. But you don’t need to panic: we’ve broken down the whole experience into six clear steps to make it easy for you.

You can read the whole thing or skip to the section you need. For a lot of people, talking to a mortgage adviser may be the best course of action to navigate them through this process. L&C is a fee free mortgage broker with specialists who can offer advice.

1. Lifestyle check

When determining whether it’s the right time to own the roof over your head, you need to carefully consider your lifestyle needs both now and in the future. Your job security, number of dependants and lifestyle habits will influence your borrowing capacity when you submit a mortgage application, and can indicate whether you’re in a sound position to buy a home.

Here are some key points to think about when deciding if you’re ready to buy a home:

Job security

When reviewing a mortgage application, most lenders prefer that you’ve been in your current job for at least 12 months as this demonstrates you have a stable source of income that can be used to service your mortgage repayments. If you have high job security, then you represent a lower risk to the lender.

Lenders will also be interested to know about your type of employment (contract, part-time or full-time) and the prospect of your continued employment.

If your employment is secure, then you may be ready to buy.

On the other hand, if you’re a low-income earner or you’re receiving benefits, it may be more difficult to qualify for a mortgage. If this describes your situation, seek independent advice about your readiness to buy a home. While it may be possible for you to qualify for a mortgage with a specialist lender if you can prove you have a secondary income source to repay the mortgage, you need to think about whether this is a financially responsible move.

Parent-to-be borrowers

One of the biggest lifestyle changes comes with the decision to settle down and have kids.

While this can be an exhilarating time, you need to think about the cost of extending your family and how this will influence your ability to purchase a home. This is because the number of dependants you have can affect your borrowing capacity. Some lenders reduce the amount they lend to people with children by 10%, while some may go as high as nearly 20%.

Recognising the sharp rise in costs that will result from having kids, some lenders will request that you factor in the cost of childcare, education fees and unexpected medical expenses when listing your day-to-day expenses.

Even if the mortgage provider doesn’t take children into account, it’s something you should factor in when calculating how much you can borrow to make sure you can afford your mortgage repayments in addition to your other expenses.

If you plan to receive government benefits, keep in mind some lenders only consider this as a secondary source of income and you’ll need to supply supporting documentation when completing your mortgage application.

Sticking around?

Your intended length of stay in the home you purchase can help you determine whether you’re ready to buy.

Due to the significant transaction costs of servicing a mortgage and owning a home, many financial advisers believe you should only buy a home if you intend to live there for 5–10 years. This is enough time to build up equity in your property and to allow your property to appreciate in value.

Affordability

Taking out a mortgage will probably be the biggest financial decision you’ll make in your lifetime, so you should sit down with an accountant during this preliminary stage to see how much you can afford to borrow.

Even if you haven’t started looking at suburbs or properties yet, it’s a good idea to get an idea of how much you can afford to borrow as this will help fine-tune your search later on.

Existing debts

Your credit file and the amount of existing debt you have can reflect whether or not you’re ready to purchase a home. Request a copy of your credit file to review your financial health.

If you have bad credit, you may not be a good candidate for a mortgage application. However, there are lenders that specialise in borrowers with bad credit.

Deposit

Ideally, you want to come up with at least a 20% deposit.

If you don’t have at least 10–20% deposit saved, there are low-deposit mortgages available. However you may want to think about whether you’re financially prepared to buy a home.

Costs

When estimating the costs of buying a home, you need to break down government charges (such as stamp duty), lender’s fees (including the application fee) as well as other associated costs (such as conveyancing or survey fees). We have created a comprehensive guide on many of the associated fees and costs.

Remember you’ll also need to factor in a contingency buffer for holding costs such as repairs and maintenance or a rise in interest rates if you take out a variable rate mortgage.

Upfront and moving costs

Here’s a round-up of some of the major upfront costs.

  • Mortgage application fees
  • Broker fees
  • Solicitor fees
  • Valuation and house surveys
  • Stamp duty

2. Find the property

Once you’ve reviewed your lifestyle and financial status and decided you’re in a sound position to settle down and purchase a home, it’s time to start thinking about the property and its location.

How your property location fits into your lifestyle is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in the home buying process. It’s a matter of balancing your priorities and finding a suitable location that will match your needs and improve your quality of life.

After fine-tuning different locations for your future home, you now need to research different properties that are listed on the market.

Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding on property type.

House or flat?

One of the biggest choices you’ll have to make when selecting a property is whether to buy a house or a flat. While houses are typically more expensive, they have historically seen higher levels of capital growth. A detached house also offers more flexibility for renovations and additions.

Flats, meanwhile, can have enormous potential as rental properties. They also have a lower price point than detached houses, so they can be a good choice for first-time buyers.

Size

Regardless of the type of property you choose, you’ll need to have an idea of the size. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? Is the amount of space you need now the same as the space you’ll need in the future? Do you want an extra bedroom for guests or potential tenants? Do you need a study if you plan to work from home?

Think about your lifestyle needs and the property size that will allow you to live comfortably. This will help you determine whether you need a 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom property, as well as whether you need additional rooms such as a living room, a baby’s room or an outdoor entertaining area.

Structural integrity

One of the most important issues to think about when evaluating different properties is the structural integrity and quality of the build. When reviewing the structural integrity of the property, make sure you enquire about plumbing, electrics, insulation, materials in the structure and any existing damage (if it’s an established property).

To help you understand whether the property is structurally sound, you should organise a house survey to pre-empt any issues that may appear further down the track, (remember that surveys should only be organised if you have a strong intention to purchase the property, as you will have to pay for each survey you request).

3. Compare your finance options

You may feel a sense of relief after locking in a location and property for your upcoming purchase, but there’s still work to do before you get the keys to your property. Analysing your financial situation, knowing how much you can afford to borrow and understanding the type of mortgage that will suit your homeownership goals are just some of the things that need to be ticked off your list before you apply for a mortgage.

When you’re comparing mortgages, you’ll want to consider the following factors:

  • Interest rate. Ideally, you want to find a mortgage that offers a competitive interest rate by market standards. A lower interest rate can go a long way in helping you maximise your savings. You should always pay attention to the comparison rate of different mortgages, as this reflects the true cost of the loan by taking fees into account.
  • Fees. When comparing different mortgages, you should keep an eye out for upfront fees, ongoing fees and discharge fees. Finding a mortgage with fewer fees will help you to minimise your holding mortgage costs.
  • Features. As mentioned previously, there are many competitive features available that can help you save money. Compare if the lender allows you to make additional repayments without penalty or if a 100% offset account is available.

4. Make an offer

When you’ve found a home you want to buy, the next step is to make an offer, usually through an estate agent. As a buyer you won’t have to pay any fees to the estate agent, as they are paid on commission by the seller. Learn more about the things you should know before making an offer.

5. Mortgage application process

Once you’ve decided on a property to buy, compared your financing and mortgage options and made an offer on the property, it’s time to go through the mortgage application process.

Arrange for surveyors

There are two different kinds of surveys you usually have to conduct.

  • Valuation survey. This survey is done by the lender to make sure the property is worth the price you’re paying before it approves the mortgage. It’s not an extensive survey and will not identify all the repairs or maintenance that might be needed.
  • Property survey. This survey inspects the property for any damages and also allows a professional to view the fixtures and fittings that come with the property, such as boilers, radiators or flooring, to make sure they are sound.

Hire a solicitor

This is a lawyer who will handle the paperwork involved with the purchase of the property. The solicitor will inform you of how much you can expect to pay and might ask for a deposit upfront, which is usually 10% of their total fee. Your solicitor also checks with the local council to find out if there are any planning or local issues that might affect the property’s value.

Finalise mortgage

Assuming everything has gone to plan, you can now contact your lender or mortgage adviser to proceed.

There is often a fee, usually called an arrangement fee, to set up the mortgage. This is often added to your mortgage, but if you choose this option, you should keep in mind you’ll pay interest on it for the life of the mortgage.

6. Completion and exchange


After you have received a binding mortgage offer, your mortgage lender must give you at least seven days to think about whether or not this is the right mortgage for you.

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

Go through the contract 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 and all your queries have been answered.

At this stage, you and the seller are committed to the sale.

After the contract has been signed and the sale completed, your solicitor will arrange to have the remaining money owed to buy the property transferred to the seller’s solicitor’s account. This money comes from your mortgage provider.

At this stage, it’s your solicitor’s responsibility to 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.

You will also have to pay the rest of your solicitor’s bill.

Buyers of residential homes costing over £125,000 have 30 days from the completion date to pay Stamp Duty in England and Northern Ireland. Your solicitor will usually arrange this for you.

Top tips for buying your first home

Buying your first home can be a bit nerve wracking.

That’s why we’ve crammed our top eight best tips for first-time buyers into this guide, so you can rest assured you’re giving yourself the best chance of success.

Know what you can afford

The most important thing to remember is to make sure you’ve calculated your sums correctly and that you haven’t over-estimated your finances.

You will need a deposit of at least 5% of the property price, but if you can save more then you’ll score yourself a lower rate on your mortgage.

You will also need money to cover the legal fees, surveys and moving costs involved as well as possible stamp duty charges.

Read up about government schemes available

Saved as much as you can muster but falling a little short? It’s always worth checking out government schemes specifically for first-time buyers. These include Shared Ownership and Help to Buy. We have previously written a guide on schemes available for first-time buyers.

Secure a mortgage agreement in principle

Before you’ve made an offer on your dream home, you will need a mortgage in principle. This is an agreement in principle from the mortgage lender that demonstrates to sellers and real estate agents that you have the basics of a mortgage application approved, and that you’re a serious contender.

Know your location

Don’t skimp on the research either! Location should be your first port of call. You’ll need to think about how far you are from your workplace, whether there are good schools in the surrounding area, what the transport links are like and so on. Remain focussed on these points and you’ll be able to narrow down your search fairly quickly.

Know the type of property you want

Are you looking for a two bed or a four bed? Do you want a kitchen overlooking the garden or is an en suite bathroom more of a priority? Whatever you decide, make sure you have this firmly in your mind when you research houses online and attend viewings.

Meet estate agents for early advice

Building a rapport with someone face-to-face trumps phone calls and online chats every time. That’s why you should make an effort to visit estate agent’s offices to show your face and build a relationship. You never know, you may end up finding out about crucial developments in the housing market or local area before any other potential buyers do.

Research local property prices

Once you know where you’d like to live, or if you’ve found the house of your dreams, check the asking price against other homes sold in the local area, which will give you a better idea of what to offer.

Learn to negotiate

Be confident. As a first-time buyer, you have no buying chain to deal with, which means you’re in a very strong position to have your offer accepted, especially if the seller is keen to have the process over and done with quickly.

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