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How to Buy a House - The Entire Process Explained

Martha Lott

Written by Reviewed by Graham Norwood

27th Apr 2020 (Last updated on 9th Apr 2021) 18 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, 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 entire process when buying a house. We cover 16 important points to help you prepare for every step of the way.

15 Steps to Buying a House
  1. 1. Create a Moving Plan
  2. 2. Set a Budget
  3. 3. Save For a House Deposit
  4. 4. Find Out How Much Mortgage You Can Borrow
  5. 5. Research Locations and Properties
  6. 6. Use an Estate Agent
  7. 7. Apply For a Mortgage in Principle
  8. 8. Property Viewings
  9. 9. Make an Offer
  10. 10. Complete Mortgage Application
  11. 11. Instruct a Licensed Conveyancer
  12. 12. Get a Property Survey
  13. 13. Book your Removal Company
  14. 14. Exchange Contracts
  15. 15. Completion Day
  16. 16. Pay any Stamp Duty or Land Transaction Tax
  17. Next Steps of Buying a House

1. 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. 

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.

Remember: At this stage you may find renting might be a better option, read our guide on renting or buying a home to help your research.

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

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2. 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. 

Compare My Move data shows that the average cost of buying a house, including a 10% deposit is £30,218. This is in addition to the cost of the house itself - for example, the UK’s average three-bedroom house costs £234,370 as of mid-2020.

The main expenses that you should budget in are:

  • House deposit  
  • Conveyancing fees 
  • Property survey costs 
  • Removal company costs 
  • Mortgage fees
  • Stamp Duty/Land Transaction Tax 

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

3. 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:

  • 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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4. 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.

It’s important to Spend time getting your finances in place so you’re prepared for applying for a mortgage. Some documents you’ll need to find 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

Find out more: What are mortgage affordability checks?

5. 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

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6. 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

7. 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?

8. 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 crisis many more agents have virtual viewings - they are not as good as ‘real' viewings but can be useful at giving first impressions, although remember these virtual viewings will be filmed to give as good an impression as possible of the property for sale. 

Viewing the house in real life will 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.

Remember: Don’t forget to find out if the property is leasehold or freehold.

Find out more: Questions to ask when viewing a house

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

Also make sure you give the estate agent other information to pass on to the seller. For example, your own circumstances, whether you are '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. Do your research on sold history in the area
    3. Have good reasoning for your offer
    4. Prove you’re a serious buyer 

    Find out more: How to get an offer accepted on a house.

    10. 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?

    11. 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 buying a house.

    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.

    It’s often recommended to compare conveyancers during your search. For your peace of mind, a good conveyancer to choose will be a professional who is regulated by the CLC (Council of Licensed Conveyancers), SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority), LSS (Law Society of Scotland) or the LSNI (Law Society of Northern Ireland).

    Remember: The seller could still accept another offer from a buyer after this, read our guide on what is gazumping so you can learn to avoid it.  

    Find out more: What happens after offer is accepted?

    12. 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. This survey is not an in-depth assessment. 
    • Homebuyers Report (Level Two) - A homebuyers report offers a deeper examination of the building and looks at the key areas that often have issues in modern homes. 
    • 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.

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

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    13. 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? 

      14. 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

      15. Completion Day

      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. 

      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 Wales, you will have to pay Land Transaction Tax (LTT) on properties over £180,000.

      Find out more: What happens on completion day?

      16. 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 Wales, you will have to pay Land Transaction Tax (LTT) on properties over £180,000.

      There is currently an increased threshold for Stamp Duty across the UK due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has been extended until June 30th 2021, apart from Scotland. This applies to properties costing £500,000 or below in England and Northern Ireland. In Wales, Land Transaction Tax threshold is up to £250,000.

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

      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.