There's a lot of variation in how quickly a property purchase can take. It's not simply the time it takes to find the dream property. You'll also have to consider the time it takes to:
Have your offer accepted
Negotiate the sales terms
Undertake surveys, searches, and legal checks
Apply for a mortgage
Undertake the final checks before you can move in
It's a pretty lengthy process.
As a general guide, buying a house can take anywhere between three months to six months.
On top of this: if you're selling a house whilst also looking for a new property the timeline gets a bit more complicated. At each stage you'll need to factor in how any decisions made will impact your sale - financially, and time-wise.
In this article, we'll cover how long each step of buying a house should take, and then offer some tips on how to make sure the process is as quick and painless as possible.
From 3 weeks to several months
First things first: actually finding your new home.
How long it takes to find a property will depend on where you're looking to buy, and what sort of home you're after. Some properties are available on the market more regularly than others - and some areas of the UK have a much higher turnover of property owners.
For example: if you're looking for a new-build flat in a city centre area, you're probably going to find the perfect property much faster than someone looking for a cottage in a rural area.
To get a sense of the market in a certain area, take a look at the online property portals, and talk to a range of local estate agents. They should be able to give you more information about how regularly certain types of property come on sale. They might even be able to let you know about a property coming on the market, before it's officially listed online.
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Around 24 hours
During your property search, it can be useful to arrange a 'mortgage in principle'. This is a statement from a mortgage lender letting you know how much they'd be happy to lend you - in theory - based on your stated income.
Of course, real mortgage approval also depends on a range of other things, including the condition of the property you end up buying. But, having an agreement in principle gives you a sense of how much you'll be able to borrow, and a tentative sign that you're likely to be approved for a loan when you apply later on.
It also demonstrates to sellers that you're a serious buyer who's thought about their financial situation.
Note: A mortgage in principle is usually only valid for a limited amount of time, usually between 30 and 90 days. However, unless your circumstances change dramatically, it remains a good indicator of how much you can afford.
Unfortunately, making an offer on a property is really just the beginning of the house buying process. There are a number of steps that come after you submit an offer which add several weeks to the purchasing process.
A few days - a couple of weeks
Once the seller has accepted your financial offer, your conveyancer will start to negotiate the more intricate terms with the seller's solicitor.
These are things like what fixtures and fittings will be left behind, whether you'll need to pay extra for any of them, and what repairs will be completed before you move in.
These terms will all be written down and included in the sales contract. At this point the sale isn't legally binding, and both you and the seller can walk away if you're not satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations.
Unlike an agreement in principle, getting a mortgage officially approved requires in-depth checks that can take a number of weeks. Firstly the lender will do a deep dive into your financial history. This is to make sure you can afford the repayments, and to check whether there's been any unusual financial activity that might suggest you're a risky investment.
Then, they will do an assessment of the property you want to buy. This is to produce the valuation on which they'll base their offer, and to make sure the property is sufficient collateral for your loan.
Often this valuation survey is just a basic physical check. If the property is a leasehold, your lender might also look at the terms of your sales contract to make sure there are no unfair terms. Each mortgage provider has their own rules about which properties they are willing to lend against. Some avoid new-build homes, or high rise flats. Some mortgage lenders won't approve loans on leases that include unfair ground rent terms, or overly high service charges.
2 weeks to 2 months (depends on your local authority)
Searches are detailed investigations into your property and the local area. They'll provide information about: any charges you may be liable for, boundary disputes, potential environmental or flooding issues, and any local developments that might impact the property in the near future - such as a new motorway, or skyscraper. They won't provide information on the condition of the property - you'll need a survey for that.
Technically searches are optional, but given the cost to security benefit of getting them done, it's well worth it. Many mortgage lenders will require that you get local authority, drainage, and environmental searches completed before they can approve your loan.
How long searches take will depend on the local authority responsible. Some local authorities are able to turn around a search within a week, whereas others, facing higher demand, will take much longer.
On top of searches, it's also a good idea to get at least one survey of the property done before you exchange contracts. This can be done at the same time as the searches, once your mortgage application has been approved.
A property survey will ensure that the house is in good condition, and let you know if there is anything you need to worry about. These could be small things, like damp, or large issues that will be expensive and time-consuming to fix, like Japanese knotweed, or subsidence.
If a problem is found, you can decide whether you still want to go ahead with the sale, or whether you'd prefer to look for a different property.
You can also use the issues found in the property survey to renegotiate the price you pay. For example, if you find a problem that will cost £5000 to fix, you may be able to negotiate £5000 off the selling price of the property.
Up to 4 weeks
Once you're happy, and have received your mortgage offer, you can finally pay the deposit and exchange contracts with the seller. This is the point when the sale is legally binding - but there's still work to be done. Luckily much of the conveyancing process after this point is relatively simple:
Once contracts have been exchanged, you're legally obligated to purchase the property. Although you don't yet live there, insuring the property will provide extra security in case anything happens to the property between now and actually moving in. It's also usually a condition of a mortgage offer. Shop around early to get the best deals.
The completion date is the day you'll officially get the keys to your new home. You'll need to negotiate with the seller to find a day that works for both you. If you're also selling at the same time, you'll need to bear in mind the timeline of that transaction too.
After exchanging contracts your conveyancer will do a few more searches. These are to check that that nothing has changed with the property or your ability to buy it.
The transfer deed is a legally binding document that confirms the transfer of ownership of your new home from the seller to you.
Your conveyancer will prepare your 'Completion Statement' for you. This is a complete breakdown of all the money you'll need to give to the conveyancer by your completion date. This will include things like the amount due for Stamp Duty, and your solicitor's fees.
Get the keys! You can move into your new home at any time after this point.
Your conveyancer will pay the Stamp Duty you owe to HMRC from the money you've transferred to them. There's a 14 day deadline to do this.
Once it's official, your conveyancer will register that you own the property with the Land Registry. This usually costs around £200-£300 but can be significantly more or less depending on the size and type of property. Your conveyancer will be able to advise.
If you're selling a home as well as buying, it's vital that you put your house on the market before you start looking for your next property. Having your property on the market - or better yet, having an offer in hand - makes you look like a serious buyer. It also means you'll be ready to move ahead quickly, because you're not waiting to find a buyer.
Not getting ahead with your own sale, may mean you end up having to sell for less in order to sell on time to secure your dream home.
Having a mortgage in principle will give you a more accurate indication of how much you can borrow, and proves to a seller that you've got your finances in order.
You'll be able to keep your search narrowed to those properties you can actually afford, and you won't waste time trying to secure a mortgage approval for something out of your price range.
Lining up a conveyancer early on means they'll be ready to go as soon as your offer is accepted. Deciding on a conveyancer before you make an offer will also mean you'll have the time to shop around for the best legal representative for you.
We'd recommend taking the time to shop around for a conveyancer that has a reputation for good communication. Not being able to get in touch with your solicitor when you need them, and delays in communication between parties can really slow down the process.
Like having a conveyancer ready to go, preparing all the paperwork you'll need in advance means you'll be able to respond to queries quickly and accurately, and there won't be any hold ups while you try and find any vital information.
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