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How to Buy a House: Buying a House Process Explained

Martha Lott

Written by Reviewed by Graham Norwood

5th Jul 2021 (Last updated on 26th May 2022) 26 minute read

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 to factor in costs and important stages, 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, highlighting the 30 vital steps.

30 Steps to Buying a House
  1. 1. Covid- 19 and buying a house
  2. 2. Is buying right for you?
  3. 3. Create a moving plan
  4. 4. Set a budget
  5. 5. Save for a house deposit
  6. 6. Talk to a mortgage adviser/broker
  7. 7. Find out how much mortgage you can borrow
  8. 8. Research locations and properties
  9. 9. Use an estate agent
  10. 10. Apply for a mortgage in principle
  11. 11. Talk to a conveyancing solicitor
  12. 12. Go to property viewings
  13. 13. Take photos during the viewing
  14. 14. Think about making an offer
  15. 15. Make an offer
  16. 16. Instruct a licensed conveyancer
  17. 17. Complete mortgage application
  18. 18. Your solicitor will order conveyancing searches
  19. 19. Be aware of gazumping
  20. 20. Get a property survey
  21. 21. Negotiate completion date
  22. 22. Book your removal company
  23. 23. Pay deposit money
  24. 24. Exchange contracts
  25. 25. Get buildings insurance
  26. 26. Sign transfer deed
  27. 27. Completion day
  28. 28. Pay any Stamp Duty or Land Transaction Tax
  29. 29. Register ownership
  30. 30. Get title deeds
  31. Glossary of terms for buying a house

1. Covid- 19 and buying a house

The housing market is fully open again despite the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. Estate agents, conveyancers, surveyors and removal companies are all offering their services, although some might still operate their services virtually, depending on circumstances.

In light of the impact of the pandemic, the government introduced a Stamp Duty Holiday. However, as of October 1st 2021, Stamp Duty in England and Northern Ireland returned to the normal threshold of £125,000.

Wales' Land Transaction Tax (LTT) holiday ended on June 30th and Scotland's Land and Building Transaction Tax (LBTT) holiday ended on March 31st.

2. Is buying right for you?

Buying a house is an expensive process. You must first work out if this is the right option for you.

Ask yourself:
  • Can you afford conveyancing fees?
  • Can you afford monthly mortgage fees?
  • Can you afford a 10% deposit?
  • Can you afford utility and council tax bills

If you think renting might be the best option for you, check out our detailed guide on renting.

3. Create a moving plan

Before you look at houses or mortgages, you’ll first need to create a moving plan. Work out all the services you will need to help you buy a house and a basic timescale to follow. By taking the time to create a plan, you’ll know what to expect throughout the buying process.

When buying a house, there are a number of services you will need to arrange. Some are an essential part of the process, whilst others are optional for your peace of mind. We’ve created a table of the main services and when you’ll need them.

ServiceWhat Will They Do?When Do I Need This?

Mortgage Broker or Advisor

Whilst hiring a mortgage broker isn’t essential, they will be able to help you work out which mortgage is the best for you, often having access to better deals. Remember that some brokers charge you a fee while others earn commission by recommending one of a small panel of products - those products may still be right for you, but find out at the start how your mortgage broker earns his or her income.

Once you’ve found a property that you’re ready to put an offer on.

Mortgage Lender

A mortgage lender will carry out an affordability assessment to work out how much mortgage you can afford to borrow. Getting a mortgage is the only way for most people to buy a house.

As above.

Estate Agent

An estate agent will arrange property viewings for you and inform the seller of any offer you make. Remember that agents are paid by the sellers and not buyers, although they are crucial to purchasers as they control the viewings and the offer process.

Register interest with an estate agent as soon as you’ve decided an area to live.

Licensed Conveyancer or Conveyancing Solicitor

You will need to hire a conveyancer to take care of the legal aspect of buying a house.

Instruct a conveyancer once you offer has been accepted on a property but you should talk to one prior to this.

Property Surveyor

You will need a surveyor to carry out the necessary property survey for the house. They will assess the property’s condition before you legally commit to buying it.

After your offer has been accepted and well before exchange of contracts.

Removal Company

Finally, you’ll need to hire a removal company to help move you and your personal belongings. Make sure you compare removal quotes in advance to help save money on the move.

Once you know a completion day you can book a removal company.

Find out more: How long does it take to buy a house?

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4. Set a budget

A key part of the buying a house process is setting a budget to work out what you can realistically afford. Setting a budget will help you factor in the all-important conveyancing costs, survey fees and removal costs, as well as creating a maximum property value that you can afford.

The average cost of buying a house, including a 10% deposit is £30,271 for a house costing £267,000.

The main expenses that you should budget in are:

  • House deposit - 10-15%
  • Solicitor fees - £1,040
  • Property survey costs - £500
  • Removal company costs - £1,181
  • Mortgage fees - Varies
  • Stamp Duty/Land Transaction Tax - Varies

Find out more: What is the total cost of buying a house?

5. Save for a house deposit

The biggest challenge involved in the home buying process is saving for the house deposit. The typical deposit required is 10% of the property’s value, but you can sometimes deposit as low as 5%. Generally, the higher deposit you put down, the lower the monthly mortgage repayments you will pay.

Saving enough money for a house deposit will take time. It’s important to set yourself a realistic deadline of when you’d like to have enough saved to buy a house and save a certain amount of your pay every month. The government offers a range of schemes that help buyers get on the housing ladder including:

  • NEW - 95% Mortgage Scheme - As of April 2021, the government launched a new mortgage guarantee scheme that allows first-time buyers and current homeowners to get a mortgage using just a 5% deposit. A 95% mortgage will mean you can get on the property ladder easier, but you’ll probably have to pay back for a longer period than normal.
  • Help to Buy ISA - Although the scheme closed in 2019, those who had already opened a Help to Buy ISA can still make the most of the government’s bonus. You can save up to £12,000 in the ISA and receive a maximum of £3,000 from the government to go towards a deposit for your first home.
  • Help to Buy Equity Loan - The Help to Buy Equity Loan will mean you’ll only have to save for a 5% house deposit. The government will lend you 20% of the cost of your home, whilst you get a mortgage on the remaining 75%. It’s only eligible for new build homes. To work out how much you can borrow, use our Help to Buy calculator.
  • Lifetime ISA - Similar to the Help to Buy ISA, a Lifetime ISA will give you a 25% bonus on your savings to go towards your first home. Alternatively, you can use your bonus later in life for retirement too.
  • Shared Ownership - The Shared Ownership scheme will allow you to purchase a share of your home, whilst paying rent on the remainder. You’ll have the opportunity to purchase a bigger share when you can afford to.
  • Rent to Buy - Rent to Buy allows first-time buyers to rent a new build home for 20% cheaper than the market rent. The scheme will give you the opportunity to save for a house deposit whilst renting at a subsidised price over a few years.

Find out more: Saving for a house deposit

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6. Talk to a mortgage adviser/broker

It’s worth talking to a mortgage adviser, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. They will advise you on the best type of mortgage for you and let you know how much you can afford to lend.

They also have access to a wide variety of mortgage lenders and deals than you’d have without using the help of a mortgage adviser. Sometimes they don’t charge you and get their fee from the mortgage lender, so it’s worth checking before enlisting their help.

Questions to ask mortgage broker:

  • How much will their service cost?
  • How many lenders do you have access to?
  • Are you regulated?
  • What is the interest rate?
  • How many years is the mortgage term?

7. Find out how much mortgage you can borrow

Before you look at properties, you must first work out if you can afford to pay back a mortgage. By having a rough figure in mind, you’ll be able to know what is realistic and what isn’t when it comes to house hunting.

Mortgage lenders will carry out an affordability assessment to work out if you’re eligible for a mortgage and how much they can lend you for your house purchase. They will look at the size of your deposit, your income and outgoings as well as your credit score. This will all be done via your mortgage adviser, you’ll just need to have everything in place for them.

Some documents you’ll need are:

  • Utility bills for proof of your current address
  • Payslips for up to 6 months
  • Bank statements for up to 6 months
  • Photo ID, such as a driver's license or passport

How is covid-19 affecting mortgages?

The covid-19 pandemic has seen house prices rise by 9.9% in the year from March 2020 to March 2021. The Stamp Duty holiday also caused house prices to rise which also increased the demand in buying.

The interest rate on mortgages also is at its lowest at 0.1%, with the Bank of England dropping its base rate twice in 2020. Before you take out a mortgage, you should either talk to a mortgage adviser or do thorough research.

Find out more: What are mortgage affordability checks?

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8. Research locations and properties

Start research early for the type of property and location you want to move to. You should think of the different criteria and facilities that you’ll need in your chosen area and whether you will require the property to be sold with vacant possession.

On some of the leading property portals, such as Rightmove and Zoopla, you can enter these criteria to help short-list those houses and flats that fit the bill.

It can be a daunting task thinking of where is the best area to live, but most people think of the following as important criteria:

  • Affordability - You should first work out what type of property you want to buy and what you can afford. UK House Price Index data shows that detached homes in the UK are on average 72% more expensive to buy than flats and maisonettes.
  • Transport Links - If the area you work is too expensive to live in, it’s worth looking at cheaper location options and their transport links. Find out how much a season train ticket or petrol money will cost you, as well as how easy or difficult the commute will be, or whether cycle lanes operate close by.
  • School Catchment Areas - Some school catchment areas are more desired than others, and therefore properties in that area will be more expensive. If you’re moving house with children, research the school application deadlines for your desired schools and the boundaries - some schools change the catchment area each year.
  • Local Healthcare - It’s important to check the proximity of hospitals, doctors and dentists to your desired area. If you don’t drive, then it might be essential to have healthcare facilities in walking distance.
  • Crime Levels - You can easily check the crime level in every area of the UK with free online tools.

Find out more: How to decide where to live

9. Use an estate agent

Once you’ve decided on an area and the type of property you’d like to buy, you should register with the estate agents in the area where you want to live

There may be quite a few but as they compete with each other, it's sensible to register with them all. Let them know of your desired property and area and they will let you know when suitable properties are up for sale.

It’s free to register with an estate agent and will be a huge help in your house hunt but always remember - agents are paid by sellers, not by buyers. They’ll arrange property viewings and put your offer in on your behalf. As a registered buyer, you will usually get to know about new property listings before they go online.

Communication between estate agent and buyer is crucial - these days most agents work through messaging services like WhatsApp as well of course as email and by phone. Once you've chosen a reliable agent, you should also begin writing a list of questions to ask when buying a house.

10. Apply for a mortgage in principle

You should ideally apply for a mortgage in principle before you view any properties. This will get the ball rolling and by the time you’re ready to make an offer, you should have secured an agreement in principle.

At this stage, you should research the best type of mortgage for you. You can’t get a mortgage before you buy a house, but you can apply for a mortgage in principle with your bank, building society or with a mortgage broker.

Whilst it’s not essential to have a mortgage in principle in place when you make an offer, it will certainly increase your chance of your offer being accepted as you will appear as a serious buyer to the seller.

A mortgage agreement in principle will prove that you can afford to take out a mortgage to buy the house. They usually last for up to 90 days, so it will come in handy throughout your whole house hunt.

Find out more: What is a mortgage in principle?

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11. Talk to a conveyancing solicitor

Now that you know you can afford to buy a property you want, you should talk to a conveyancer to let them know you’ll be needing them soon. They’ll be able to get your case ready so as soon as your offer is accepted you can instruct them to begin the conveyancing process.

It’s often recommended to compare conveyancers during your search to get the best deal. Comparing conveyancing quotes with Compare My Move can help you save money on your moving costs and put you in touch with a choice of conveyancers. We only work with professional and regulated solicitors who are accredited and regulated by:

  • CLC (Council of Licensed Conveyancers)
  • SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority)
  • LSS (Law Society of Scotland)
  • LSNI (Law Society of Northern Ireland)

12. Go to property viewings

Make a shortlist of properties you’ve found on the likes of online portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla, contact the selling agents, and organise house viewings. If you’ve found the property through an estate agent, they will organise the house viewing for you.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many more agents have virtual viewings. Now it’s safe to have in-person viewings again, you should opt for this over a virtual viewing. It’s easier to look for any signs of subsidence, damp or any other issues in person than on a video that’s designed to give a good impression.

Viewing the house in real life will also make the process seem more real. You’ll be able to picture your belongings and furniture there as well as making note of anything you’d like to know more information about.

Take a list of questions to ask at the viewing, here’s some to get you started:

  • Has it had many viewings?
  • Have they had any other offers?
  • Why are they selling?
  • But why are they really selling?
  • How long has it been on the market?
  • How much is council tax?
  • How are the neighbours?
  • Are they in a chain? Do they need to wait to buy?
  • Are there any animals living here?
  • Is the property leasehold or freehold?
  • Is it a south-facing garden?
  • How is the parking?
  • What is the EPC rating?

It’s also a good idea to view the property at different times of day. If you commute, it’s worth checking what the traffic is like in the morning and evening. You’ll want to know where in the garden gets sun, if any. Is the street loud on weekends? These are all important things to check out before committing to buying a house.

Find out more: Questions to ask when viewing a house

13. Take photos during the viewing

You should also take photos of everything during the viewing as it’s easy to forget certain things after the viewing. Looking at your photos after will help you to decide on your initial offer too. If a certain room needs lots of work to it, you can use this to factor in your offer to cover the costs of repair or design work.

Take photos of any signs of damp or any cracks in walls. This will all help refresh your memory when thinking or talking about the property with family and friends.

14. Think about making an offer

When you’re certain that this is the property you want to buy, you’ll need to make an offer on the house.

You’ll need to do your research and think carefully about your reasoning for your decided offer. Look at nearby properties and their sold history to get a figure to work with.

Compare the size and features of this house compared to other properties you’ve viewed and properties on the same street.

If you make a low offer, be prepared to give appropriate reasons and evidence to back up your low offer.

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15. Make an offer

You’ll need to make your offer via the estate agent. Give them your reasoning and any other information you’d like to pass on to the seller. For example, your own circumstances, whether you are chain free and ready to go and therefore unlikely to cause a delay in the transaction. Some buyers even send personal letters explaining their links with an area and why they want a particular house - although be warned that emotion is not always a successful card to play with some sellers.

Many sellers will put their house on the market at around 5-10% more than the actual value, as they expect buyers’ to begin with a low offer. This will give you room to negotiate a price through your estate agent. Research from Clear Score shows that 22% of sellers would accept an offer that is 5% under the asking price if the buyer wasn't part of a property chain with a mortgage in place.

The best way to get your house offer accepted:

1. Have your mortgage in principle in place
2. Have your deposit ready to go
3. Do your research on sold history in the area
4. Give good reasoning for your offer
5. Don't go in too low or too high
6. Explain if you're a first-time buyer or chain free

    All the above should prove to the seller you’re a serious buyer.

    Find out more: How to Make an Offer on a House.

    16. Instruct a licensed conveyancer

    The next step in the house buying process is to hire a licensed conveyancer. Once your offer has been accepted, you will need to instruct a conveyancer to help you with the legal side of the buying a house process.

    Your conveyancer will sort out everything from enquiring about property searches to registering you as the new owner with the Land Registry. They will also be there to answer any questions you may have about how to buy a house or the process at hand.

    Find out more: What happens after offer is accepted?

    17. Complete mortgage application

    Your mortgage in principle will have helped you to get your offer accepted, now it’s time to complete the full mortgage application with your lender. By now you should have all your finances in place and have the necessary documents needed to speed up the application, including the Memorandum of Sale from the seller's estate agent.

    At this point in the house buying process, it’s crucial that you’re prepared. Research from Market Financial Solutions (MFS) shows that 34% of buyers didn’t go through with a sale due to them or someone in the chain not having a mortgage approved in time. Most mortgage offers are valid for 3-6 months depending on your lender.

    Find out more: How long does a mortgage offer last?

    18. Your solicitor will order conveyancing searches

    You’ll usually have to pay your solicitor a fee upfront of around £300, this is to cover the cost of the conveyancing searches that they order. Around this point, your solicitor will order the searches as they can take a while to be carried out and returned to your solicitor.

    Conveyancing searches include:

    • Local Authority Search - will look into any issues in the local area that affect the property and surrounding area.
    • Environmental Search - looks into environmental issues such as flood risk and contaminated land
    • Water and Drainage Search - checks the property is connected to the public sewer.

    19. Be aware of gazumping

    After your offer has been accepted, the sale isn’t legally binding until exchange of contracts. There is still a risk of being “gazumped”. Gazumping occurs when the seller receives a better offer after accepting yours and accepts it. It’s not illegal to do this but it is not a good practice.

    How to avoid being gazumped -

    • Ensure you have everything in place to avoid any delays, the quicker the process goes, the less chance of the seller receiving more offers
    • Ask the estate agent to take down the property listing on their online portals and in their office windows - they usually mark the property as ‘sold stc’ but still allow offers

    What else to watch for:

    Gazanging - When the seller pulls out last minute even after accepting the buyers offer.

    Gazundering - When the buyer lowers their offer just before exchanging contracts making it difficult for the seller.

    20. Get a property survey

    At this stage of the home buying process, you should get a property survey. A chartered surveyor will assess the property’s condition and structure to highlight any hidden issues or serious structural damage. You should have also budgeted your surveying costs into your buying a house budget.

    It’s important to get a property survey before you exchange contracts, as if the survey brings back negative results, you can still legally pull out of the sale. Alternatively, you can use your survey results to re-negotiate on your original house offer if the survey flagged any expensive repair work needed.

    Types of property survey:

    • Condition Report (Level One) - A condition report is the most basic property survey and is suited for modern and conventional properties such as flats. This survey is not an in-depth assessment and will cost £300 on average.
    • Homebuyers Report (Level Two) - A homebuyers report offers a deeper examination of the property and looks at the key areas that often have issues in modern homes. Ideal for properties built less than 80 years ago, the average cost of a homebuyers survey is £500. If you’re using a mortgage adviser, they can usually recommend one of their nationwide surveyors to carry this out.
    • Building Survey (Level Three) - A 'full structural' or building survey is the most in-depth survey. It will look at specific areas and is particularly useful for older or unusual builds. If the property you’re buying has had renovation work done or isn’t in the best of conditions, you’ll require a building survey. It’s the most expensive survey and the average cost is £800.

    It’s important to note that a mortgage valuation is NOT a property survey and will only inform you of the property’s estimated value. It won’t look at the condition of the property and is used to show your mortgage lender the house is valued at what you’re paying for it.

    The process of getting a survey is slightly different in Scotland. The seller must organise and pay for the Home Report. They should provide you with the Home Report within 9 days of requesting it.

    Find out more: What type of survey do I need?

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    21. Negotiate completion date

    By now you should have the results of your searches. Most of the time they return good results, but if they flag any issues, your solicitor might order further searches.

    If your search results are good, you can now discuss a completion date. This should be one that both the buyer and seller can agree on. Completion day is when you receive the keys for your new place and can move into the property.

    22. Book your removal company

    You should book your removal company as soon as you know your completion date. Always choose a firm in the official trade body, the British Association of Removers.

    Giving the removal company enough notice of any updates in your conveyancing process will help ensure a successful move. Make sure you compare removal companies to get the best deal for your move. Compare My Move work with verified and trusted removal companies and we connect you with up to 6 professionals to help make your move stress-free.

    You should choose your removal company based on:

    1. Insurances - A trusted removal company will have Goods in Transit and Public Liability insurance.

    2. Reviews - Compare My Move’s partner pages allow you to read through removal companies’ reviews

    3. Experience - an experienced removal company will have a varied knowledge of different types of move.

    Find out more: How much does a removal company cost?

    23. Pay deposit money

    Now you’ve got a completion date in mind, it’s time to pay the deposit to your solicitor. This is typically 10% of the price of the property and is usually bank transferred to your solicitor.

    24. Exchange contracts

    Nearing the end of the buying a house process comes the exchange of contracts. If you're selling and buying a house at the same time, then your conveyancer will exchange contracts on your behalf with the seller’s conveyancer.

    After this has been done, you are officially purchasing the property and can’t back out of buying the house without losing your deposit.

    You will usually exchange contracts between 7-28 days prior to completion day, although it’s possible to exchange contracts and complete on the same day if you’re not part of a property chain.

    Find out more: Exchanging of contracts explained

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    25. Get buildings insurance

    You will need to arrange your building insurance to begin on the date you exchange contracts. The house or flat becomes your responsibility from exchange of contracts, so if anything happened to it during the time between exchange and completion and you don’t have insurance, then you’re in a difficult position. Your mortgage lender will typically require you to have buildings insurance too.

    If you compare quotes for building insurance you can get a pretty good deal that you can pay monthly or all in one go.

    26. Sign transfer deed

    You’ll receive the transfer deed and need to have it signed in the presence of a witness. This will just confirm you’re going to take ownership of the property. Your conveyancer will forward this to the seller’s solicitor.

    27. Completion day

    Congratulations! Completion day will be the final step in the house buying process. On completion day, you will become the legal owner of the property, finalising your purchase and becoming registered with the Land Registry.

    You can now begin moving into your new home with the help of your removal company, so it’s important to keep a moving house checklist to ensure nothing is forgotten.

    Find out more: What happens on completion day?

    28. Pay any Stamp Duty or Land Transaction Tax

    It’s worth noting that you must pay Stamp Duty within 30 days of completion. However, if you’re a first-time buyer, you won’t have to pay Stamp Duty if the property you’re purchasing is under £300,000, due to first-time buyer relief.

    In England and Northern Ireland, Stamp Duty is payable on properties costing upwards of £125,000.

    In Wales, you will have to pay Land Transaction Tax (LTT) on properties over £180,000. Stamp Duty has been replaced by the Land and Building Transaction Tax (LBTT) in Scotland.

    Find out more about updated Stamp Duty costs: Stamp Duty calculator

    29. Register ownership

    After you’ve paid stamp duty, your solicitor will officially register you as the owner of your new house with the Land Registry.

    30. Get title deeds

    Your conveyancer will receive the title deeds to show you’re the new owner from the Land Registry and pass them on to your mortgage lender. If you don’t have a mortgage, your solicitor can send these to you.

    And that concludes the final step in buying a house! Congratulations, now it’s time to celebrate!

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    Glossary of terms for buying a house

    We've compiled a glossary for any terms you're unsure of.

    • Completion - This is the final day in the conveyancing process where you get handed the keys and can move in.
    • Exchange of contracts - This is the point when the purchase becomes legally binding and you can’t back out.
    • Instruct a conveyancer - Instructing a conveyancer just means letting them know your offer has been accepted and you want them to start the process.
    • Interest rate - This is how much you’ll pay monthly to take out the mortgage as a loan.
    • Land registry - Where your solicitor will register you as the new owner of the property.
    • Mortgage broker - A service you typically pay for to find and organise your mortgage. They will have access to a wide range of lenders and deals.
    • Title deeds - These will show the ownership history of the property.
    • Transfer deed - this is the document that transfers ownership from the seller to the buyer.

    Take a look at our jargon buster guide to familiarise yourself with all the house buying terms. To learn more, read jargon buster for first-time buyers.

    Next Steps of Buying a House

    This article is the first part of our home buying guide. Our team of writers and property experts work hard to produce in-depth and insightful advice articles to guide you through the buying process.

    In our next article, we breakdown the outgoings involved with buying a house, from solicitor fees to how much a removal company costs. To find out more, read the total cost of buying a house.

    Martha Lott

    Written by Martha Lott

    Having written for Huffington Post and Film Criticism Journal, Martha now regularly researches and writes advice articles for everything moving house related.

    Graham Norwood

    Reviewed by Graham Norwood

    Property Journalist and Editor,

    With over 15 years of experience in residential property journalism, Graham is currently the editor for both Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today.