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  1. Blog
  2. Your 20 steps to buying a house
Home buying tips & advice
02 February 2022

Your 20 steps to buying a house

Sam Edwards
Senior Writer & Researcher
Couple moving boxes out of a car.

Table of contents

  1. 1. 20 steps to buying a house
  2. 2. The house buying timeline
  3. 3. FAQs

Whether you’re buying your first home or your second, the house buying process is probably one of life’s most stressful events.

Luckily, you’re not the first person to make the decision. Every year, thousands of people successfully buy and sell their homes in the UK. As a result, there’s a documented right and wrong way to do it.

Based on a combination of research and personal experience, we’ve created a comprehensive guide, so you know exactly what to expect from your home purchase.

20 steps to buying a house

Here, we take a look at how to buy a house - from the moment the thought pops into your head, all the way to completion day.

1. Consider your personal circumstances

First and foremost, you need to decide if you’re actually ready to buy a house. Owning a home is a big commitment. Plus, the process of moving is a huge job in itself. While many of life's events are unpredictable, it pays to think ahead - that means, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays should not take precedence over your property purchase. You'll need to set a good chunk of the year aside in preparation. If you're not ready for the twists and turns of moving, things will get difficult further down the line.

If you already own a house...

You need to decide whether you’re ready to sell your house. A big indicator will be your mortgage tie-in period. If you can remortgage and move without incurring an early repayment charge, you’re good to go!

2. Save for a mortgage deposit

It’s time to save, save, and save some more. While the end goal may feel like a lifetime away, it'll all be worth it when you have a set of keys in your hand, and a house to your name. It’s worth using a mortgage affordability calculator to get a rough idea of how much you can afford to borrow based on your income and other lendability factors. Halifax and MoneySuperMarket both offer calculators on their websites.

There are lots of different ways you can save for your deposit. Taking lunch into the office or cycling to work are good ways to save money, especially if you live in an expensive city with a hefty commute.

How much is the average house deposit?

On average, a house deposit is usually 10 - 20% of the property's total value. As of May 2023, the average UK home was priced at £285,861. For a 10% deposit, you would need £28,586.10 to front your house purchase. For more information on the costs of buying a home, check out our handy guide here.

House prices and mortgages - how do they work?

Property listings on property portals such as Rightmove and Zooplaare fixed with price tags. This is the property's 'asking price', the amount that the seller's estate agent expects the property to sell for. An asking price is not the same as the 'purchase price' - the amount the property actually ends up selling for.

Unless you've sold your first property already, most people can't afford the full price on their own. That's where mortgages come in.

Mortgages and lenders

Mortgage lenders, like Nationwide and Halifax, loan the bulk value of the property (usually 80 to 95% of the property's value). However, you'll need to pay the remaining figure upfront. This is called a house deposit, and it's usually 10 - 20% of the remaining cost. For more information on applying for a mortgage, check out our guide, ‘Will I get approved for a mortgage?’.

Mortgage costs

When you take out a mortgage, you're legally obligated to make good on monthly mortgage payments. What's more, every mortgage package comes with its own interest rate - the rate at which interest accumulates per annum. The lower the interest rate, the quicker you'll be able to pay back your mortgage.

Can you afford the houses you like? A good way to assess this is by applying for a Mortgage Agreement In Principle.

3. Research your chosen area and find your dream home

The area you move to will likely be somewhere you spend a large portion of your life. That means finding a location you like is super important. To get started, try researching the following factors:

  • Cost of living
  • Local crime statistics
  • Distance from amenities
  • School catchment areas
  • Distance from the city centre

Finding your dream home

For most people, this is easily the most enjoyable task. You can use Zoopla and Rightmove to locate ideal properties.

We recommend making a shortlist of the best properties in your chosen area. A shortlist will help you keep track of the properties that make you tick. If one becomes unavailable, you can cross it off the list.

Once you have a shortlist, it's a good idea to get a Mortgage Agreement in Principle

4. Apply for a Mortgage Agreement in Principle

A Mortgage Agreement in Principle (AIP) is essentially a preliminary agreement from your mortgage lender to lend you the money you need. It's not an official mortgage agreement, but it does give an indication of whether you’ll have enough money to purchase the property you want.

An AIP can be a valuable tool to showcase your credibility as a buyer to sellers. When you're looking to purchase a property, sellers are more inclined to favour a buyer who can substantiate their ability to afford the property over someone who lacks any substantiating evidence. This becomes particularly advantageous if you're a first-time buyer, as it highlights your lack of involvement in a property chain.

Typically, a mortgage deal offer secured through an AIP can remain valid for a span of three months. This grants you the advantage of obtaining an AIP and placing an offer on a property, all the while knowing that you can still access the same favourable deal in the upcoming one or two months.

Agreement in Principles and credit checks

During an AIP application, the mortgage provider runs a soft check on your credit report. In a real mortgage application, they run a hard check, which leaves a ‘footprint’ on your report. Too many footprints imply that you've frequently applied for credit, which is a bad sign to any mortgage lender. That’s why it’s a good idea to get an AIP first, so you can get an idea of whether or not your real mortgage application will be accepted.

5. Register your intent with local estate agents

It might be worth registering interest with estate agents local to the area. If you give them an idea of the type of home you’re looking for, they can give you first dibs on ideal homes they haven't yet listed.

6. View some properties

Always try and see a property in person before you put an offer in. Photos are never enough to go on, especially the ones that estate agents take to advertise the best features of properties. That’s why a big part of finding your dream home is attending house viewings.

When you go and view a house, you should take note of the following:

  • Potential: What’s the potential for future work?
  • Condition: What’s the quality of both the interior and exterior?

These will help you decide how viable the property is for your future plans.

It’s normal for people to view the same house two or three times. Multiple viewings, especially at different times (afternoon and evening), provide you with a new perspective of the property.

For more information on what to look for during viewings, check out our free checklist.

7. When you find a home you like - make an offer!

Once you've found a property you like most, it’s time to make an offer. Knowing how to negotiate the right offer is an art form, but you can do it skillfully if you consider all the possible factors affecting the seller.

  • How many other buyers are interested?

If there’s a lot of competition, you may have to put a higher offer in.

  • How much have other similar properties sold for recently?

Use the sold prices of similar properties as a guide to base your offer on.

  • How much do you want this particular property?

Work out if the property is worth putting the extra money in.

  • What's the seller’s position?

If the seller is in a rush to sell, they may be more likely to accept a lower offer.

Lower offers are more likely to be accepted if:

  • You’re a first time, chain free or cash buyer
  • The vendor wants to move quickly
  • The vendor has previously reduced the price
  • The house has been on the market for a long time
  • The seller is keen to move quickly
  • There’s no competition from other buyers

Offers In Excess Of (OIEO) the asking price

Offering more than the asking price is a tactic best saved for hot properties that have already received offers. You should offer more if:

  • You’re really certain on the property
  • You’re either a second time buyer or part of a property chain
  • The property has been on the market for a small amount of time
  • There’s competition from other buyers

Offering In Excess Of has its pros and cons. On the one hand, you might end up paying less for the home of your dreams. On the other, you may lose your chance to take the property off the market. Usually, the best homes are snapped up quickly. If you’re dead certain on a home, you may be better off offering more.

Take note of the fixtures and fittings

During the offer process, you can also negotiate on ‘what’s included’ within the final sale. Fixtures and fittings are a good place to start. Notice anything broken or off in the house viewing?

Negotiate to have it included in the final price. See any white goods or other appliances in your viewing? It's worth seeing if you can get them included in the final sale price.

For more information, check out the blog on ‘How to make an offer on a house’.

8. Offer accepted? Submit your final mortgage application

Congratulations on having your offer accepted! First things first, it's imperative that you keep on top of the vendors and get them to take your potential new home off the market. You don’t want to be gazumped.

Requesting that they remove the property listing - or adjust the listing to 'Under Offer' - is a good way to follow up on this.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the time to get complacent. A lot can happen between now and completion day. Your next task is to submit your final mortgage application.

Your real mortgage application involves a hard check on your credit report, which leaves a footprint. Footprints are signals to lenders that you've recently had a hard credit check.

While one isn’t enough to do any damage, several hard checks will imply that you've recently taken out several loans, or have been rejected on several applications. Ultimately, this could suggest you are an untrustworthy investment.

Remember: Your lender will be checking that your mortgage matches the value of the property. They will also check if your employment situation is stable. If things have changed, you could end up with a different interest rate or offer than your initial AIP.

Your mortgage valuation

Your mortgage lender will send a property expert round to evaluate your new home. The expert will verify whether the property is truly worth the final sale price.

If your formal mortgage offer is rejected, even after an AIP, you need to act fast. Our blog can help you with the next steps. If there are any issues, speak to your mortgage broker about the best course of action.

Should all go well, your mortgage application will be accepted without issue.

9. Instruct a conveyancing solicitor

There's a legal process that needs to be adhered to in property transactions - and this is the responsibility of a conveyancer or conveyancing solicitor. They also take care of the transfer of payment, as well as ensuring all necessary bills are paid on your behalf. This makes choosing the right conveyancer a big decision - but don’t worry, it’s fairly easy to work out how to pick one with our key points:

  • Expensive conveyancers tend to be better: Conveyancers are solicitors at the end of the day and their legal fees mostly reflect their expertise.
  • Fixed fee packages are key: You should always try and find a conveyancer who charges a fixed fee. This type of package means costs and fees are outlined for you to see. This means you won't be surprised by any hidden fees.
  • Customer feedback is valuable: See what past customers are saying about them. Google reviews can be a valuable insight into how professional their services truly are.

If you want a rough idea of how long the conveyancing process should take, check out our free Conveyancing Time Calculator for an estimate.

10. Order a survey of the property

Property surveys identify the condition of your new home. The structural integrity of your new home should never be in question. Naturally, a survey is an important step before finalising a property purchase.

Remember: A mortgage valuation is not the same as a property survey. Most mortgage valuations consist of ‘drive bys’, where the valuer drives past the property and makes an estimate from the car window. Don’t take this as confirmation that your property is structurally sound.

Types of house surveys

There are several types of property surveys available. Finding the one that’s right for you depends on the type of property you’re buying.

Snagging survey

A snagging survey is primarily designed for new build properties.These are homes built, converted or refurbished in the last two years. In a snagging survey, surveyors identify unfinished bits and defects. With these issues highlighted, you can push the developer to address them.

To find if your home qualifies for a snagging survey, head over to our blog, 'Snagging survey: Everything you need to know’.

Homebuyer’s report

Recommended for properties less than 100 years old, homebuyers reports are non-intrusive and identify ‘surface-level’ issues. They are, however, comprehensive, which means they usually take from two to four hours to complete.

Once the report is complete, you will receive specific advice on any property defects that affect your new home’s value, including the estimated cost of repairs and ongoing maintenance. Any major problems will swiftly be identified

Full structural survey

If you own a particularly old or structurally unique property, a full structural survey is your best option. Intrusive and comprehensive, these surveys require a full investigation into all the nooks and crannies of the house.

Surveyors will lift up floorboards and even drill small holes into the walls to get to the bottom of a property's structural integrity. Full structural surveys help you get a full picture of the property’s structural integrity.

When the survey is done, you’ll get a detailed report of everything, including any problems that impact the property’s safety and value.

For more information on the different types of house surveys available, check out our blog, ‘House survey: costs, types, and how to find a good surveyor’.

11. Negotiate a completion date

It's time to negotiate a completion date. Finding a date that works for everyone on the property ladder can be difficult, but it's best to be flexible and open to compromise. Everyone has dates they need to work around. Remember: If you’re selling a house at the same time as buying one, you’ll need to make sure your completion date is agreeable with your buyers.

12. Deliver deposit monies to your conveyancer

Before the exchange of contracts can take place, you need to deliver the deposit to your conveyancing solicitor. Once this has been delivered, your conveyancer will transfer it your mortgage lender.

13. Exchange contracts

This is the moment the purchase becomes a legally binding contract. Any attempt to forgo the transaction hereafter could result in serious penalties - so it's important that you're certain before you go into the exchange. You, the buyer, don’t need to do anything during an exchange of contracts. This is a job for your conveyancer or solicitor. During the exchange, your conveyancer or solicitor rings the conveyancer of every other party in the chain to confirm their parties are ready for the transaction to progress to completion. During this process, a completion date is set in stone. For more information, check out our complete guide to ‘Exchange and completion’. It provides a detailed outline of the entire exchange and completion process.

14. Sort out buildings insurance

Getting buildings insurance should be a priority before you move into your new home. This policy covers the costs of damages and losses sustained from fire, flooding, earthquakes, theft, and attempted vandalism. While not a legal requirement, buildings insurance is often a stipulation of most mortgage contracts. Please note that buildings insurance doesn’t cover:

  • Pests
  • Frost
  • Leaking gutters

15. Get a completion statement from your conveyancer

Before completion day, you need a completion statement from your conveyancer. This document details everything you need to pay on the big day, including:

  • Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT)
  • Conveyancing fees including any disbursements

16. Research removal companies

You should aim to book a removal company at least two weeks before moving day. Most removal companies ask for a deposit to reserve a specific day and time slot. Removal rates based on a number of factors:

  • Your location
  • Size of transport
  • Distance travelled

Local movers are usually charged by the hour, while cross-country movers pay a fixed rate - but this varies from company to company.

17. Carry out final searches plus the transfer deed

Your conveyancer needs to carry out some final searches before completion day. Some of these are a little unusual - checking whether the seller still owns the property, confirming that you haven’t been made bankrupt - but necessary nonetheless. They will also prepare a deed of transfer. This is the document that officially transfers the property and its titles to your name. Sometimes you don’t need to sign the transfer deed, but if you do, you'll need a witness.

18. Completion day

Well done, you’ve finally made it! Completion day is your last big chore. For a comprehensive resource on how to prepare, see our ‘Moving house checklist’. For a condensed version, just see below:

1. Your lender releases the mortgage funds to your conveyancer

Your conveyancer will request the mortgage funds from your lender so that the payment has time to clear in their account. It's at this point your conveyancer receives the mortgage money you've agreed to borrow.

2. Your conveyancer will then pay for the house

Your conveyancer will then send the full payment to the seller's conveyancer. They will receive both the title deeds and proof that the seller's mortgage has been cleared (this means their bank no longer has a claim on the property).

3. You’re ready to pick up your keys and move in

It’s time to pick up your house keys from the agreed person (usually the seller’s estate agent or conveyancer), and move into your new home.

19. Pay Stamp Duty

Stamp Duty Land Tax is a government tax on purchasing lands and property. It’s a proportional tax, which means it increases with the amount of money you spend on your new home. SDLT returns must be paid within 14 days of completion day. You can use the government Stamp Duty Calculator to work out how much tax you’ll need to pay. Your solicitor will take care of transferring your returns.

20. Register ownership and receive your title deed!

Your conveyancer will register your information with HM Land Registry. As per their disbursements, conveyancers usually charge £200 to £300 for this - but it all depends on the purchase price of your home. Unless you're mortgage-free, your conveyancer will forward your title deeds to your lender.

Pop open the champagne...

...And that is pretty much that! It’s time to put your feet up, pop open the champagne and enjoy your new home.

The house buying timeline

It takes roughly 24 weeks to go from looking for a house to buying and completing. You can see the timeline for each step below.

House Buying StepAverage TimeNotes
Saving for a deposit5 yearsThe average person takes 5 years to save for a deposit.
Getting an AIP1 dayAn agreement in principle generally takes 24 hours to approve, and is valid for up to 90 days.
Viewing houses3 monthsAs of 2021, it’s currently taking 3 months to find the right house in the UK.
Making an offer1-2 weeksMaking an offer typically takes 2-3 days of back and forth, but sometimes this can last up to 2 weeks.
Accepting an offer1-2 daysSellers tend to take an average of 48 hours to accept an offer.
Mortgage application and approval4-6 weeksMortgage applications can take a while to approve due to both demand, and the extensive checks underwriters perform on your credit report.
Property survey2-8 hoursYour conveyancer will order several searches of the property. In the meantime, you should order a property survey of some sort. These searches and surveys usually take 2-8 hours to complete, but the entire process could take up to 2 weeks in total.
Exchange of contracts1 dayAn exchange of contracts is usually completed within a single day. On rare occasions, an exchange might take longer. This is usually due to a fault further up the property chain.
Exchange to completion1-4 weeksDuring this period, your conveyancer will conduct final searches of the property. They will also draw mortgage funds for completion day. You might also need to sign a completion statement or a transfer deed. In this period, you should research removal companies and get a quote for the big day.
Completion and beyond2 weeksAfter you’ve moved in, your conveyancer will arrange for any Stamp Duty to be paid (within 14 days). They will also register your ownership with the Land Registry and obtain title deeds.


Is buying a new build home quicker than buying an ordinary home?

On average, the completion process when buying a a new build is much faster than an ordinary home. You don’t have to negotiate on fixtures and fittings, and whether you can get a discount if a survey shows there’s work needed. However, new build projects can be subject to delays depending on how long into the construction process they are. This is especially true for part exchange homes.

How much money should you have before buying a house?

For a house priced at £270,027 (UK national average according to Halifax), a first time buyer would need to have saved approximately £23,602.025 before buying a house. Meanwhile, second home buyers would need to have saved approximately £26,814.25.

How quickly can I buy a house?

On average, it takes 5 - 6 months to buy a house. You usually need at least 3 months to find the right house, and 2 - 3 months to close the transaction. This can take a lot longer depending on how much you have saved for a mortgage deposit, with most people saving for at least 10 years.

How much deposit do I need?

A mortgage deposit is of 5% to 10% of the purchase price is needed for most property purcahses. With the average currently valued at £270,027 in the UK (October 2021), you would need at least a £20252 (7.5%) deposit in 2022.

What are the main steps in the house buying process?

If you’re a first-time buyer, and you’re not selling your house at the same time, the house buying process should look very similar to this:

  1. Check if you’re ready to move
  2. Check what you can afford to buy
  3. Research your chosen area
  4. Find your dream home
  5. Make an offer
  6. Apply for a mortgage
  7. Find a conveyancer
  8. Order a survey of the property
  9. Negotiate a completion date
  10. Deliver deposit monies to your conveyancer
  11. Exchange contracts
  12. Sort out buildings insurance
  13. Get a completion statement from your conveyancer
  14. Research removal companies
  15. Carry out final searches plus the transfer deed
  16. Complete the house sale
  17. Pay Stamp Duty
  18. Register ownership and get your title deed
  19. Pop open the champagne

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