Buying a house can be a daunting process, especially when you don't know how long it will take. Our step-by-step guide explains the route to getting the keys to your first home and gives a rough idea of the timeframes involved.
Bear in mind, not all property transactions are typical and your journey to owning a home may take less or more time than outlined here.
Step 1: Finding the right property and making an offer
This stage of the home-buying process depends on how long it takes you to find a home you can afford that ticks all your boxes – or at least most of them.
It’s important to take your time to ensure you make the right choice. Research your chosen area, looking at:
- transport links
- amenities such as shops and hospitals
- schools and their Ofsted ratings
- crime rates
If you apply for a Decision in Principle, this will give you an indication of how much you could borrow. In Scotland, you must have a mortgage in principle in place before you can make a bid on a property.
Once you’ve found your dream home, the next step in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is to make an offer, typically through an estate agent. Buyers in Scotland will instruct a solicitor who will help them prepare a bid.
Step 2: Formally applying for a mortgage – around 4 weeks
Once you’ve had an offer accepted, you can turn the Decision in Principle into a concrete offer.
In general, it takes about a month from filling in the application form to receiving a formal mortgage offer.
The process involves detailed checks of your finances and the lender may want to conduct its own valuation on the property you want to buy.
Step 3: Conveyancing – 6-12 weeks
You’ll need to appoint a 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’ transaction.
Your conveyancer will conduct searches with the local council and other authorities to check things like environmental risks and whether there are any planning issues that might affect the property’s value.
Step 4: Property survey – 2-3 weeks
It’s a good idea to have your own survey of the property carried out to flag up any potential problems.
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.
There are several types of surveys offering different levels of property inspection:
- Condition report – the most basic type of survey
- HomeBuyer Report – a more detailed inspection of the inside and outside of the property
- Building or structural survey – the most comprehensive type of survey
In Scotland, sellers must also provide a Home Report, comprising an energy performance certificate, a survey and a property questionnaire. Once you/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 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.
Step 5: Exchange of contracts to completion – 1-4 weeks
Once you have your mortgage offer and your conveyancer is happy with the results of searches, their enquiries of the seller and the legal title to the property, you are ready to exchange contracts. If you’re in a property chain, the other buyers and sellers have to be ready too. If not, there may be a delay.
Your 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 will need buildings insurance in place at this point. As mentioned above, in Scotland this will need to be done on conclusion of missives.
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 or there may be hold-ups if a chain is involved.
On the date of the completion, you should be able to pick up the keys to your new home.