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10 steps to buying your own home

From making an offer on a property to applying for a mortgage – buying your own home is exciting, but there’s lots to think about.

Here are 10 steps to help you through the process of buying a property:

1. Know what you can afford

The first step is to get a rough estimate of how much you could borrow for a mortgage. This will give you an idea of the type of property and location you could afford. It may also help you work out how much you’ll need to save for a deposit.

Some lenders, including HSBC, offer 95% mortgages that require a smaller deposit. There are also government housing schemes available to help make buying a property easier.

2. Build up your home deposit and savings

If you don’t have enough for a home deposit, make a savings plan. You can also create a budget to see where you can cut back and save more.  

It’s a good idea to save as much as you can when planning to buy a home because:

  • A larger deposit may help you find a lower interest rate and reduce your monthly repayments
  • Your savings can help cover the costs of buying a property, such as Stamp Duty, legal fees, survey costs, and removals
  • Your savings can help you furnish or complete work on your new home

3. Check and improve your credit score

When you apply to borrow money, lenders will look at your credit score before deciding whether to accept your application. It can show them how reliable you are at borrowing and repaying money.

It’s a good idea to check your credit report to make sure there are no mistakes. You can also improve your credit score to increase your prospects of getting a mortgage.

4. Know what type of property you’re looking for

Take some time to think about what you need in a home versus what you’d like. This will help you narrow down your search when it comes to looking at properties. For example:

Needs vs wants when comparing properties

What you need in a home What you’d like in a home
At least 2 bedrooms 3 bedrooms
Space for parking A garage or own driveway
Outdoor space for a dog A private, low-maintenance garden

Needs vs wants when comparing properties

What you need in a home At least 2 bedrooms At least 2 bedrooms
What you’d like in a home 3 bedrooms 3 bedrooms
What you need in a home Space for parking Space for parking
What you’d like in a home A garage or own driveway A garage or own driveway
What you need in a home Outdoor space for a dog Outdoor space for a dog
What you’d like in a home A private, low-maintenance garden A private, low-maintenance garden

When making your list, think about your long-term needs. House prices can go down as well as up and it can cost money to move. For example, if you’re hoping to start a family, finding a place with room to expand may mean you won’t have to sell to buy a bigger place later on.

Location is also important. Research and visit different areas and ask yourself: 

  • What would it be like to live there?
  • What areas can you afford to buy in?
  • What are the schools like?
  • How long would it take to commute to work?

5. Get a Decision in Principle

A Decision in Principle – also known as an Agreement in Principle – gives you a clear idea of how much you could borrow based on your circumstances. It usually involves a soft credit check to look at your credit history but will have no impact on your credit file.

A Decision in Principle is not a guarantee that your mortgage application will be accepted, but it can help you understand your options and what you may be able to afford. It also shows estate agents you’re serious about buying a property.

6. Find the right home and make an offer

With your list of requirements in hand, it’s time to contact estate agents, search for properties and arrange viewings. This is also a good time to start looking for a solicitor or licensed conveyancer.

It may take some time, but when you find a property you want, deciding on the right price to offer can be exciting – and scary. From asking the right questions to negotiating tactics, get tips on how to make an offer on a property.

If your final offer is accepted – congratulations. If not, keep looking – your new home, at a price you’re happy with, could be just around the corner.

7. Apply for a mortgage

Once your offer has been accepted on the property, you can apply for a mortgage.

There are different types of mortgages to choose from. The one for you will depend on your financial situation, plans, and the type of property you’re buying.

If you prefer, you can speak directly with a lender or a mortgage broker to help you find and apply for a mortgage. They’ll be able to look at a variety of mortgage options for you and give you advice. Some brokers may charge a fee.

The mortgage application process can take a few weeks. It involves detailed checks of your finances and your lender may want to conduct their own valuation on the property you want to buy. If your mortgage application is approved, your lender will send you an offer.

8. Kick off the legal work

A solicitor or licensed conveyancer will carry out the legal work, which can take between 6 to 12 weeks on average to complete. There will also be costs involved.

Among other tasks, a solicitor or licensed conveyancer will typically:

  • Check the legal title to the property
  • Manage the chain for the exchange of contracts and completion
  • Collect and transfer money, including Stamp Duty (if payable)
  • Carry out property searches to check for any environmental or planning issues that might affect the property’s value

9. Carry out a property survey

As well as the valuation your lender may have arranged for their benefit, you should also arrange an independent survey of your own to flag any potential problems. The survey itself will take a few hours and be completed by a surveyor who will then send you a report.

You can choose the type of survey you’d like, depending on how much detail you need:

  • RICS Condition Report – the most basic type of survey
  • RICS HomeBuyer Report – a more detailed survey of the inside and outside of the property
  • Building or full structural survey – the most comprehensive type of survey

Buyers in Scotland can also request a free Home Report from the seller – this contains an energy performance certificate, a property survey, and a questionnaire. 

If the survey identifies any significant work that needs doing, you may be able to revisit your offer with the seller. For example, if a house has some dampness, you may be able to factor the cost of the work into the purchase price.

10. Exchange contracts and agree on a completion date

The exchange of contracts is when solicitors or licensed conveyancers swap signed contracts on behalf of you and the seller. It’s also when they’ll ask you to transfer your deposit over to them.

When you exchange contracts – you’re legally bound to buy the property. In Scotland, this is known as the ‘conclusion of missives’. You'll need buildings insurance in place at this point.

Buildings insurance protects you against the cost of repairing or rebuilding your home from scratch, should it get damaged from an insured risk. So, it’s important to consider getting the cover you need.

Exchanging contracts is a big milestone, when you can do a celebratory dance – if you like.

The completion date is usually 2 weeks after the exchange, but it can be as little as 1 day after or even take place on the same day. This is when you can pick up the keys to your new home and start enjoying it.

Explore: Your moving day checklist


Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.