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Jargon Buster For First Time Buyers: A Glossary

Martha Lott

Written by Reviewed by Emma Lunn

20th Aug 2020 (Last updated on 15th Aug 2023) 11 minute read

Buying a house is an exciting but daunting process, especially if you're buying your first home. Property professionals often use terms throughout the conveyancing and surveying process that can be confusing if you haven’t done your homework.

We’ve created this useful jargon buster so you’re familiar with important terms and processes before you start the buying or selling process. From gazumping to disbursements, we have covered everything you need to know so you’re fully clued up on the moving house vocabulary.

Affordability Assessment

An affordability assessment is a process carried out by mortgage lenders to check if you will be able to afford your mortgage payments. Lenders will look at your income, your outgoings, any future changes that may impact your spending, and your credit score.

To learn more read What Are Mortgage Affordability Checks.

Agreement in Principle

Commonly referred to as an AIP, an Agreement in Principle or Mortgage in Principle is provided by a bank or building society confirming that it will theoretically lend you a certain amount of money. If you have an AIP when you’re viewing a house or making an offer on a house, then you will be taken more seriously as a buyer, improving your chances of getting your offer accepted.

To learn more read Mortgage in Principle.

Bridging Loan

Bridging loans are quick loans that will help someone buy a property before selling their house. They are intended to be a short-term loan and come with high-interest rates. People who are looking to buy a house quickly before they have time to get funds from the sale of their own house can benefit from a bridging loan.

To learn more read What is a Bridging Loan.

Building Survey

A Building Survey is the most in-depth property survey available and is ideal for older properties that aren’t in the best condition. You should hire a RICS chartered surveyor to carry out your building survey once your offer has been accepted on a property. It’s also something you should factor into your total cost of buying a house.

To learn more read What is a Building Survey.


Buy-to-let is when someone buys a house specifically to let it out. This is for people looking for an investment as a landlord and not for a place for themselves to live. You will need a buy-to-let mortgage if you’re not a cash buyer and the property will need to generate a rental income of at least 125% of the mortgage payments.

To learn more read Buy-to-Let Advice.


Capital refers to the amount of money you are borrowing as a mortgage. With a repayment mortgage, you’ll repay part of the capital and some interest each month.

Cash Buyer

A cash buyer is a buyer who does not need a mortgage or loan to buy a property. A cash buyer will be more attractive to a seller than someone with a mortgage as the sale is usually quicker, avoiding any delays. It should be noted that most people will require a mortgage to buy a house, especially first-time buyers.

To learn more read How to Buy a House with Cash.

Chartered Surveyor

A chartered surveyor will carry out a survey on the property you plan to buy to reveal any problems with its condition or structure.

To learn more read What is a Chartered Surveyor.


Completion refers to the legal work that’s carried out so that you own the home and your money for the purchase is transferred to the seller. The seller must move out on completion day and you will be given the keys to your new property.

To learn more read What Happens on Completion Day.


A licenced conveyancer or conveyancing solicitor will be responsible for transferring ownership from seller to buyer when buying or selling a house. Your conveyancer will be responsible for gathering all the legal documents for the sale or purchase, carrying out local authority searches, highlighting any issues with the property title, exchanging contracts and setting a completion date

To learn more read What Does a Conveyancer Do.


Conveyancing is the legal process of buying or selling a house where ownership is transferred from the seller to the buyer.

To learn more read What is Conveyancing.

Conveyancing Searches

Conveyancing searches are a vital part of the conveyancing process for buying a house. Your conveyancer will organise the searches with the local authority and they will be made up of a Local Authority Search, an Environmental Search and a Water and Drainage Search. They will reveal important legal and environmental information regarding the property and area before you legally commit to buying it.

To learn more read What are Conveyancing Searches.

Credit Score

A credit score is a numerical score that represents your creditworthiness and how trustworthy you are with money. The higher your credit score, the greater your chance of getting accepted for a loan or a mortgage.

To learn more read What Credit Score Do I Need for a Mortgage.


Disbursements are the fees that your conveyancer will pay on your behalf for third-party services during the process such as the conveyancing searches and Stamp Duty. It’s important to ask your conveyancer for a full breakdown of your quote as disbursements should be included.

To learn more read What are Conveyancing Disbursements.

Early Repayment Charge (ERC)

An early repayment charge (ERC) is a fee charged if you repay your mortgage during your tie-in period. The tied-in period is normally the same as the length of time your mortgage is fixed for – normally 2 or 5 years. ERCs can be expensive if you want to remortgage or move house.

Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) show how energy-efficient a property is. It’s the seller’s responsibility to arrange the EPC before marketing the property for sale.

To learn more read What is an Energy Performance Certificate.

Engrossment Fee

An engrossment fee is a fee that your conveyancer or conveyancing solicitor may charge you when making a genuine and legalised copy of any legal documents for signature. An example of this would be the lease when purchasing a flat.

To learn more read What is an Engrossment Fee.


Your equity is the difference between the current value of your property and the amount of outstanding mortgage. For example, if your house is worth £200,000 and you owe £150,000 on your mortgage, you’ll have £50,000 equity.

To learn more read What is Equity Release.

Exchange of Contracts

Exchanging contracts happens towards the end of the conveyancing process and makes the purchase legally binding. This means that the seller is bound to sell, and the buyer is bound to buy the property for the sale price on the completion date agreed in the contract. Pulling out of a transaction after exchange is rare and very expensive

To learn more read Exchange of Contracts.


Freehold is the absolute ownership of both the property and the land it stands on until you sell it. This means you are responsible for maintaining the property and land around it. Most houses are freehold, but it is important to check before you commit to buying. Flats, on the other hand, are usually leasehold.

To learn more read Freehold vs Leasehold.


Gazumping is when a seller accepts another buyer’s offer after they have already accepted an offer. It’s not illegal to gazump someone but it is considered extremely unfair as the original buyer whose offer was accepted might have already paid for refundable services such as surveying and conveyancing. To avoid being gazumped, you should ensure you have everything in place to avoid any delays in the buying process.

To learn more read What is Gazumping.


Gazundering is when a buyer lowers the price of their original offer just before exchanging contracts. This puts the seller in an awkward position as they either accept a lower price for a quick house sale or face starting the process again with a new buyer.

To learn more read What is Gazundering.

Help to Buy

Help to Buy is a government scheme that helps first-time buyers purchase their first home. The government initiative offers different schemes that provide financial help in the form of a government loan. Schemes include Help to Buy ISA (closed for applications), Help to Buy: Equity Loan (this scheme ends on 31st March 2023 in England) and Shared Ownership. You will need a Help to Buy Valuation when you sell your home, are remortgaging your HTB property or repaying the loan. For a Shared Ownership property, you will need a Shared Ownership Valuation.

To learn more read What is Help to Buy.

Homebuyers Survey

A Homebuyers Survey is the most common property survey and is ideal for properties built less than 80 years ago. The property must be in fairly good condition and built using common building materials. Although it will add to the cost of moving house, a homebuyers survey is vital in finding out important information about the property.

To learn more read What is a Homebuyers Survey.

Interest-only Mortgage

An interest-only mortgage means that each month you only pay the interest on the amount you borrowed. This makes monthly payments much lower than a repayment mortgage. However, at the end of the term, you will still owe the capital you originally borrowed.

To learn more read What is an Interest-only Mortgage.


Leasehold is when you have ownership of a property for a set period of time. Most leases are for 99 to 999 years. Flats are usually leasehold, meaning the freeholder of the flat will be responsible for maintenance of the communal parts of the building, such as the roof and stairway.


A mortgage is a loan taken out from a bank or building society to help you buy a property. Most people will require a mortgage to buy a house. There are different types of mortgages, but most mortgages will mean you’ll pay back the loan monthly over a period of about 25 years.

To learn more read What is a Mortgage.

Mortgage Broker

A mortgage broker will help find you the best mortgage for your needs. They will act as an intermediary between and you and a mortgage lender. Mortgage brokers will have access to more and often better mortgage deals that are being offered on the market. It’s not essential to have a mortgage broker, but it can save time and stress. Some mortgage brokers will charge a fee to help you find a mortgage, whilst others will be free (they get paid commission by the lender).

To learn more read Do I Need a Mortgage Broker.

Negative Equity

Negative equity is when your outstanding mortgage is higher than the value of your property. If your house is worth £150,000 but you have a mortgage of £170,000, you are in negative equity (£20,000).

To learn more read What is Negative Equity.

Property Chain

A property chain is a line of buyers and sellers that are linked because their transactions depend on each other. If you are a first-time buyer or don’t have a property to sell, you’ll be the end of the property chain. Buyers who aren’t in a property chain are more attractive as the process is less likely to encounter delays.

To learn more read What is a Property Chain.

Property Survey

A property survey will highlight any defects or damage in the property you plan to buy. It will be carried out by a chartered surveyor and is a vital part of the house buying process.

To learn more read What Survey Type Do I Need.

Repayment Mortgage

A repayment mortgage is a type of mortgage where you repay part of the capital plus some interest each month. At the end of the term, you’ll own your property outright.


RICS stands for Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is the professional body for surveyors. Using a RICS registered surveyor will ensure the surveyor has the appropriate qualifications.

To learn more read What is RICS.

Sold Subject to Contract (STC)

Commonly referred to as Sold STC, subject to contract means that the seller has accepted an offer but is waiting to exchange contracts with the buyer. This means that you can still put in an offer on the property, but are at risk of gazumping someone else.

To learn more read What is Sold STC.


Staircasing is when a buyer decides to purchase additional shares in their Shared Ownership property, increasing the percentage they own. Shared Ownership homes allow buyers to purchase an initial share of the property whilst paying rent on the rest. Staircasing your shares will reduce your monthly rent and increase the percentage of ownership you'll have.

To learn more read What is Staircasing.

Tie-in Period

A tie-in period refers to the time that you are “locked-in” to your mortgage. The tied in period will usually be the length of the fixed period of your mortgage – normally two or five years. If you pay off your mortgage, remortgage, or move house in this period, you’ll be charged early redemption charges (ERCs).

Under Offer

Not that dissimilar to Sold STC, when a house is under offer it means a buyer has made an offer and the seller is currently considering it. It does not mean the sale has been finalised and so it's possible for other buyers to also put in an offer.

To learn more read What Does Under Offer Mean.

Vacant Possession

If a property is being sold with vacant possession then the sellers or tenants must move out and remove all of their personal belongings by completion day. Anything left within the home must be items that have already been agreed upon with the buyer and written into the contract. Most homes will be sold with vacant possession in the UK but it would be wise to check with your conveyancer.

To learn more read What is Vacant Possession.

Learn More About Help to Buy

This article is part of our help to buy guide, we hope it will help prepare you for all that jargon. Next we take a look at selling a help to buy property and everything you need to do before you begin the process. To learn more read selling a property with a help to buy loan.


All data, research, facts, and figures have been taken from reputable sources and government data that was accurate at the time of writing. Any information featured in this guide should not be relied on or regarded as an authoritative statement of law. While we aim to ensure that all information is accurate, we make no representations about the suitability or reliability with respect to the website as well as any products, information, or services that are featured on the website. Mortgage criteria, policies, and interest rates change regularly and vary depending on the lender and type of mortgage you have. You should speak directly to your mortgage lender for clarification. It should be noted that your home may be repossessed if you cannot keep up with your mortgage payments.
Martha Lott

Written by Martha Lott

Having guest authored for many property websites, Martha now researches and writes articles for everything moving house related, from remortgages to conveyancing costs.

Emma Lunn

Reviewed by Emma Lunn

Freelance Personal Finance Journalist,

Emma Lunn is an award-winning journalist who specialises in personal finance, consumer issues and property.

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