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How to buy a house: A guide on the process of buying a property

Even for experienced home buyers, the process of purchasing a property can be daunting and filled with unknowns.

So, for a first-time buyer such as yourself, being aware of the process and what to expect can be a huge help before setting out on your property journey.

Firstly, we'll outline the process of buying a house. Then we'll delve deeper into the things you can expect as you move through from deciding to buy to receiving the keys for your brand new home!


Buying a house: The process

Although most people's experience of buying a property will differ in some way, the process of buying a house generally remains the same. That means you will (or should!):

1. Work out your finances, save your deposit and look to eliminate any debt

2. Approach a mortgage lender or broker to confirm how much you can borrow

3. Obtain a mortgage agreement in principle

4. Establish where you want to live and the type of property you need but can also afford

5. Approach solicitors and conveyancers

6. Start your property search by speaking to your local estate agent

7. View some properties!

8. Make an offer on a property that fits your needs and budget

9. If your offer is accepted, confirm everything with your chosen solicitor or conveyancer

10. See your solicitor undertake searches on the property and liaise with the seller's solicitor to move the sales process on

11. Be notified when your solicitor exchanges contracts once everything, including a moving date, is agreed between both sides

12. Receive the keys once your funds are in place and all finances have been dealt with between your mortgage lender and solicitor

Sounds straightforward, doesn't it? But those 12 steps do take time and bumps in the road do occur...


Work out your budget

A property search with no clear budget is a dangerous (and potentially costly) search.

Before you start to look at properties, or even areas where you might like to live, it's important to establish your financial situation and potential for borrowing.

Assuming you are already saving your deposit, or have one in place, take some time to run through your current outgoings and debt level.

Your borrowing potential will be affected by your level of debt and if you have a poor credit history or any County Court Judgments (CCJS).

See if you can reduce your monthly outgoings or pay off any outstanding credit or store cards. Eliminating those kind of debts will greatly improve your chances of obtaining a mortgage that suits your needs and remains affordable.


Mortgage agreement in principle

Although this is not an official mortgage offer, having an agreement in principle in place before you start your property search will help you appeal to sellers once you start making offers.

Anyone selling a property wants to get the deal done as quickly as possible, so an agreement in principle is hugely appealing to vendors and might set you apart from any other buyers keen on a property you have fallen in love with.

Some lenders can provide an agreement in principle in less than 24 hours, based on details like your income and debt level. But remember: 'In principle' means exactly that. If your circumstances change, your lender could only agree to lend you a lower amount, or even refuse to lend to you at all.


Where do you want (or need) to live?

Focusing your property search only on areas that work for you is as crucial as looking only at properties that fall within your budget.

On that note, it's lovely to peek through the keyhole of hugely expensive properties. But if the asking prices are well out of reach for you, it is both wasted time and added frustration.

Establish a list of 'must-haves' for your dream property. If you are commuting, a train station or major road nearby may be important.

For those with children, school catchments could be key. If outdoor space is important to you, flats and apartments may be wasted viewings.

However, while drawing up a wish list is helpful, you might need to compromise on something. Work out what you would be willing to sacrifice and stick to it.


Speak to your estate agent

While the majority of property searches start online, building up a relationship with your local agent can be hugely beneficial as a first-time buyer.

Your agent can alert you to properties that suit your needs and budget as soon as they come on the market and potentially before they appear on portals like Rightmove and Zoopla.

That could give you a huge advantage against other buyers in a competitive market.

Your local agent will also know your area. They'll be able to advise on schools, transport links and even the best restaurants or pubs to frequent!


Viewing properties

As a first-time buyer without home-buying experience, it's easy to fall into the trap of being led by your heart.

That's not to say you shouldn't 'feel' something when looking at property - after all, home is where the heart is.

But it's important to view properties with your head as well as on an emotional level. Look at things from a practical point of view.

For instance, if you are shy of undertaking regular maintenance, a period property might not be for you - no matter how in love you are with all those lovely Victorian or Edwardian features!

Moreover, if you need three bedrooms because you are planning to start a family, the two-bedroom house you viewed with that amazing open-plan, modern kitchen diner might have to be crossed off the list.


Making an offer on a house

So, you've found your dream home! Now you just need to secure it.

But going through the negotiating process with a seller can be a daunting prospect as a first-time buyer.

Having as much knowledge as possible about the local market conditions can help at this stage.

Before deciding where to pitch your opening offer, find out how long the property has been on the market and the seller's situation. Also, look online to see what other, similar properties in the road have sold for.

If the property you want to buy has been on the market for some time and the seller has found somewhere to buy, you might be able to try a lower offer knowing the vendor is keen to move quickly.

Most importantly, don't exceed the budget you set at the start of the process. If a property seems perfect for you, it can be extremely hard to hold back and not make a bigger offer to secure it.

Remember there will always be another property for you and try to be practical. An 'everything happens for a reason' approach is needed!

Finally, consider other costs such as Stamp Duty when making your offer.

For first-time buyers, the first £300,000 of a property's purchase price is exempt from Stamp Duty, so always factor that in when making offers.


How long does buying a home take

How long is a piece of string?! In all seriousness, the time it takes to get from offer stage to receiving the keys to your new home really does vary.

As a first-time buyer, patience is key. Property transactions in the UK usually take at least 12 weeks to get from offer to exchange of contracts.

That can seem like an eternity when all you want to do is move into your dream property.

Much will depend on the speed and capacity of your solicitor, but you can also help things move along at a quicker pace by being on hand to answer questions and making sure all your documents are in order.

Having your deposit ready to be lodged with your solicitor is also hugely important. You'd be surprised how many buyers forget about the cash aspect of buying a home and many sales are held up by funding issues.


You're ready to move in!

But did you remember to book the removals?

Once you have exchanged contracts with your seller, there is usually at least a week between exchange of contracts and receiving the keys.

That should give you plenty of time to pack everything up and finalise details with your removals company.

But making contact with removals firms earlier in the process can help establish their availability. In sale-heavy periods such as spring, these companies get booked up extremely quickly...



If you are about to start the search for your first home, take a look at the properties Parkers have available for sale.


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