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Timeline for buying a home

From starting your property search to completing – buying a property in the UK, on average, takes around 6 months1 but many factors are at play. Your financial situation, the property you want to buy, and the seller’s circumstances can all have an impact. 

Our step-by-step guide gives a rough idea of the timeframes involved.

1. Applying for a Decision in Principle: 24 hours

Decision in Principle gives you an indication of how much you could borrow. It’s best to do this before you start house hunting, so you know you’re looking at properties you can afford.

You can typically get a Decision in Principle on the same day you apply. Many lenders let you apply online and give you an instant decision. 

2. Finding a home and making an offer: varies

The time it takes to find a property varies, from a few weeks to several months. It’s important to take your time and research your chosen area to ensure you make the right choice. 

Once you’ve found a property, the next step in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is to make an offer, typically through an estate agent. The estate agent should confirm when you’ll hear back from them.

In Scotland, you must instruct a solicitor who will help you prepare a bid for the property. As you can become legally committed to buying the property when your bid is accepted, you need to ensure that you have a Decision in Principle and are ready to proceed with a mortgage application.

3. Formally applying for a mortgage: up to 2 weeks

Once you’ve had an offer accepted on a property, you can apply to turn the Decision in Principle into a potential mortgage offer.  

In most cases, it typically takes up to a couple of weeks – from completing an application to receiving a formal mortgage offer. However, in some circumstances, it could take longer. You can help speed up this stage by making sure you have all the relevant documents ready.   

The process involves detailed checks of your finances, and the lender will conduct its own mortgage valuation on the property you want to buy.

How long after a mortgage offer to completion?

After you receive your mortgage offer, it can take around 12 weeks to complete on your property. Bear in mind – each property transaction is different and your journey to owning a home may take less, or more time, than outlined here.

4. Conveyancing: 6 to 12 weeks

You’ll need to appoint a solicitor or licensed conveyancer to handle the legal aspects of the property purchase. 

If there are no issues or hold-ups, the conveyancing process can take around 6 weeks. But it could take a few months, particularly if you end up in a ‘chain’. 

A property chain is when there are a number of transactions that need to happen at the same time. For example, if you’re buying a home from someone, and they are buying another place – it can create a chain of buyers and sellers that need to move. 

5. Property survey: 2 to 3 weeks

It’s a good idea to have your own survey of the property carried out to flag any potential problems. This is different from a mortgage valuation, which is carried out for the lender’s use only.

The survey itself should only take a few hours. Most surveyors will then produce a report within a couple of weeks before sending it to you. 

In Scotland, sellers must also provide a Home Report, containing an energy performance certificate, a survey and a property questionnaire. Once you or your solicitor has checked this, you can decide whether to make a bid. 

If your bid is accepted, contract details will be worked out. Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will then exchange letters, known as ‘conclusion of missives’ with the seller’s solicitor. Once this process is completed, the deal is legally binding. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this isn’t the case until contracts are exchanged.

6. Exchange of contracts to completion: 1 to 4 weeks

Once you have your mortgage offer and your solicitor or licensed conveyancer is happy with the results of searches, their enquiries of the seller and the legal title to the property, you’re ready to exchange contracts (please note the process is different in Scotland). 

If you’re in a chain, the other buyers and sellers have to be ready too. If not, there may be a delay.

Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will exchange contracts with the seller’s conveyancer, and you’ll hand over your deposit for the house. The agreement is now legally binding, and you’ll need buildings insurance in place at this point. 

As part of exchanging contracts, a completion date will be agreed. The time it takes to complete is agreed between you and the seller. Completion dates are often set 2 weeks after exchange, but it could be as little as 1 day. There may, however, be hold-ups if you're in a chain. 

On the date of completion, you should be able to pick up the keys to your new home.

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


1Source: HomeOwners Alliance