Guide to Buying a House

About this guide

Buying a house can seem daunting, especially if it’s your first, but if you’re prepared it will be a lot easier. From doing your initial research to learning what happens on completion day, every stage is just as vital as the next. We’ve created an in-depth buying guide to ensure you’re familiar with each step of the house buying process.

Arguably the most important step of the process is understanding how it works first. Creating a plan and setting a budget for your move will allow you to have a realistic expectation. This guide begins with a step by step breakdown of what you need to do and when you need to do it during the buying a house process, from applying for a mortgage in principle to making an offer. 

When you’re buying a house, unexpected costs will crop up. Many people are unaware of hidden costs and forget to factor these into their budget. It costs £25,569 to buy an average 3-bedroom house costing £237,834. Throughout our buying guide, we explore the true costs of buying a house, from the typical upfront fees to the on-going costs, we cover everything for you to budget realistically.  

Another aspect of the buying process that can often be unclear is the time it takes to buy a house. How long it takes to buy a house will vary, but it will take 3-6 months for the average buyer. From how to avoid conveyancing delays to being in a property chain, we will also explore the average timeline for buying a house to help you plan a clear timescale. 

Once you’ve got a clear idea of the process, a budget and a timeline, then you can start choosing an area to live. Your desired area must be in your budget and have all the required amenities such as doctors, dentists, supermarket and good schools if needed. We explore in-depth the criteria and factors you should be looking at when deciding where to live, from employment opportunities to crime rates.

By having all the important information in one place, with a focus on the house buying process, the cost of buying, the time it takes to buy a house and choosing an area to live, you will be fully prepared. After reading through the complete guide, we hope you’ll feel confident about what to expect when buying a house. 

  • 1. The process of buying a house

    Buying a house can seem daunting, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. With conveyancing, surveying and mortgages to think of, it’s difficult to know where to begin. If you set yourself a budget and create a moving plan, then you’ll have peace of mind that you’re fully prepared for the home buying process.

    Compare My Move work with property industry experts to bring you the most accurate and reliable advice for buying and selling a property. This guide features an in-depth look at the buying a house process. We cover 15 important points to help you prepare for every step of the way.

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  • 2. The cost of buying a house

    The average cost of buying a house in the UK is £25,569, based on buying a 3-bedroom property at the current UK average house price of £237,834. This overall cost can vary depending on the location and size of the house, what type of survey you have on the property and who your mortgage lender is.

    Whilst these are the main upfront costs of buying a house, there will be on-going costs involved, too. From property maintenance to utility bills, you will need to budget for it all.

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  • 3. Time it takes to buy a house

    It takes between 12 weeks and 6 months to buy a house. There are factors that could delay this, so every buyer will experience a different timescale. If you’re not part of a property chain, the process will likely avoid any delays with other transactions.

    You will have to factor in the timescales for applying for a mortgage, conveyancing process and getting a property survey.

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  • 4. Choosing an area to live in

    Choosing where to live will depend on where you are in life, what you are looking for in a home and where you see yourself in the next few years. Ideally, you want somewhere you can grow into, rather than one you will quickly outgrow.

    The area you choose may be dictated by the fact that you have or are planning to have children. Employment opportunities, crime rates and public transport links are other deciding factors. It is elements like these that need to be taken into consideration when choosing an area to buy a home.

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  • 5. Questions to ask when viewing a house

    To get the most out of a house or flat viewing you should prepare a list of questions you need answering. To help you prepare, we've broken down our useful list into easy-to-follow sections for you to use when at a house viewing. From checking the quality of the roof to discussing what to look for in each room, this article will ensure you're fully informed before attending your next viewing.

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  • 6. Freehold vs leasehold

    Freehold is the absolute ownership of a property and the land it was built on. Although the process of buying a house is never truly simple, the idea of freehold is straightforward: you are the owner of the property and land in perpetuity and are responsible for its maintenance.

    Leasehold is when a tenant temporarily owns a property, leasing the home from the landlord or freeholder. Flats are the most common example of a leasehold property, as you can imagine an array of leased flats under the overall freeholder of the building.

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  • 7. Making an offer on a house

    When you’re ready, you will need to make an offer on the house you plan to buy. Spend time to work out a realistic offer. Research how much similar properties in the area sold for, and base your opening offer on that. It should be noted that most buyers’ first offer is between 5-10% below the asking price.

    Be prepared to negotiate your offer. You’ll also have to give valid reasons if you’re putting in a low offer. If your property survey returns poor results, you can use that to try and negotiate a lower offer.

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  • 8. Having an offer accepted

    After your offer is accepted, you will first need to hire a conveyancer to help you with the legal side of buying the house. They will work towards planning a day for completion, which will make the purchase legally binding.

    After the seller has accepted your offer and before you exchange contracts, the sale still isn’t official. This means both buyer and seller can pull out, although this isn’t ideal for either party.

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  • 9. What does 'under offer' mean?

    There are a number of legal terms thrown around during the buying process and they may make buying a house seem more disconcerting. Under offer, for example, is typically a marketing and advertising term used by estate agents to imply that an offer has been put forward but is likely below the asking price. It means that a buyer has presented an offer and the seller is still considering it.

    Compare My Move work alongside an array of property and finance experts to ensure you’re provided with the most informative and helpful articles. In this guide, we will explain the definition of ‘under offer’, what it means for you as a buyer and how it differs from ‘Sold STC’.

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  • 10. What are sealed bids?

    A sealed bid is a type of auction that is used when there is significant interest in a property from competing buyers. It is most often found when the housing market is strong, and is a way for sellers to receive multiple offers before settling on a final price and choosing a winner. Despite the sealed bid process encouraging a quick sale, there are issues for buyers to consider before submitting an offer.

    To help you make an informed decision, Compare My Move has worked alongside property experts to create an article explaining the sealed bidding process and what it means for both the buyer and seller. From how it works to the pros and cons, we have everything you need in one useful guide.

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  • 11. What is a property chain?

    A property chain is the line of buyers and sellers that are linked together because their transactions depend on one another. This means that they’re each selling or buying a property from one of the other parties involved, excluding those at the start and end of the chain.

    If you're not involved in a property chain, expect the buying a house process to be quicker than if you were part of a property chain.

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  • 12. What is Gazumping?

    Gazumping is when a seller accepts an offer from one buyer, and then accepts an offer from another buyer. The second buyer has then 'gazumped' the first buyer. Though considered unfair, it is legal to do in England and Wales. The law is different in Scotland. Gazumping can occur any time before exchanging contracts as the transaction is not yet legally binding.

    Compare My Move has created this guide to help you understand the meaning of gazumping and how to avoid it, making your conveyancing process that much easier.

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  • 13. Exchanging of contracts

    Exchanging contracts will make the sale official, transferring ownership of the property to you. Your conveyancer will liaise with the seller’s conveyancer and exchange contracts on your behalf once you’re happy to do so.

    Exchanging contracts usually happens during week 8 of the conveyancing process, after your offer has been accepted and before completion day.

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  • 14. What Happens on Completion Day?

    Completion day is the final step in the buying a house process. It usually takes place between 7-28 days after the exchanging of contracts and will be the day you can officially move into your new house. The seller must move out of the house and you’ll be able to pick up the keys.

    Completion usually happens between lunchtime and early afternoon at the latest on a weekday due to CHAPS (Clearing House Automated Payment System) banking system closure on weekends.

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  • 15. What is Stamp Duty?

    Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) is a fee payable after purchasing a house. The amount you pay will depend on which UK country you live in and how much your house is worth. Stamp Duty is referred to as Land and Buildings Transaction Tax in Scotland and Land Transaction Tax in Wales.

    Remember to factor in the cost of Stamp Duty to your house buying budget as you will need to pay this upfront.

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