The stages of buying a house

We explain the stages of buying a house in the UK, including how to make an offer and what happens before contracts are exchanged.

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If you’re a first-time buyer, the stages of buying a house can seem a little confusing. So, to help you navigate the home-buying process, here’s a rundown of what you can expect.


Buying a house: a timeline of the stages 

While there’s no hard and fast rule, it usually takes around six months to buy a house in the UK. Here’s why:

  • Browsing properties and making an offer: 10 weeks, on average 
  • Property searches: one month 
  • Getting a mortgage: up to six weeks 
  • Exchanging contracts: up to two months
  • Finalising the sale: anything from 24 hours to one month

Let’s work through the key steps. 

1. Get your deposit together

The first stage of buying a house is saving up a deposit – usually at least 5% of the home purchase price. So, if you’re buying a property worth £200,000, you need a deposit of at least £10,000.

If you want a smaller mortgage, though, aim to save a deposit of at least 10-15%. 

2. Shop around for a mortgage

Next, find out how much you can borrow. How much you’ll get depends on factors like your age, credit score and income.  

  • Shop around for the best deals. 
  • Once you’ve found a mortgage you’re happy with, you can agree it ‘in principle’ with your lender. In other words, you know the lender will probably give you the mortgage, but you won’t take it out until you’ve found a property you want to buy. 

3. Start viewing properties

Now comes the fun part – viewing properties! You can register with local estate agents or browse websites like Rightmove to find properties you want to view.

4. Find a lawyer or conveyancer

Conveyancing is basically the legal process of transferring property ownership from one person to another. This is not a stage of buying a house you can handle alone. You’ll need a trained conveyancer or solicitor to do it for you.

Once you know you plan on making an offer, instruct someone to represent you. 

5. Make an offer

You don’t always need to offer the full asking price. However, if there’s more than one buyer interested, you may have limited room to negotiate.

It’s best to have representation in place before you make an offer. They’ll help you put the offer in, and they’ll talk you through what happens next. 

6. Get a property survey

Next up is the survey stage: 

  • Your lender will arrange a valuation to confirm the property’s worth the loan amount. 
  • It’s optional, but it’s a good idea to instruct your own property survey to look for any defects that could affect the sale price. 

Lenders don’t always charge you for the valuation, but you’ll need to pay for a property survey. 


7. Confirm your mortgage

Once you’ve confirmed what you’re paying for the property, and you’re happy with the lender’s valuation, you can go back and agree the mortgage. If you experience any delays, make sure the seller knows what’s happening. 

Until you exchange contracts, you can still pull out of the sale without penalty. 

8. Look for removal companies

This is an important stage of buying a house. Book a removal company as early as possible – don’t leave it until the last minute! 

  • Shop around for the best rates.
  • Always carry your own valuables (e.g. jewellery) to a new property. 

9. Exchange contracts

Exchanging contracts means signing the contract with the seller and sending over the deposit.

It’s really important from a legal perspective. Once there’s a signed contract in place, you can’t pull out of the sale without incurring penalties for breach of contract. 

10. Insure your new home

Once you’ve exchanged contracts, get home insurance in place. Remember, you’re legally bound to buy the property now, so it’s in your best interests to protect it! 

If it’s a new build, you can arrange for cover to begin on the completion date (i.e. moving day). 

11. Set up utilities

Make sure you set up utilities like broadband, gas and electricity before you move in. You can arrange for the services to start on moving day. 

12. Change your address

Don’t forget to update your address details! Here’s a non-exhaustive list of whom to notify:

  • Lenders, including credit card companies
  • Doctors and dentists
  • Schools
  • Employers 
  • Banks or building societies 

13. Complete and pay remaining fees

The final stage of buying a house is when you pay the remaining purchase price to the seller. Once this is done, you’ll get the keys to the new property and the sale is complete. 

The stages of buying a house: takeaway

Buying a house can be stressful, but it’s a lot less daunting if you know what to expect. Be clear about how much you can borrow, and get representation in place as soon as possible. 

One final tip: don’t forget to factor in expenses like stamp duty, removal costs and legal fees. Otherwise, you could end up spending more than you can afford.

Should you invest, the value of your investment may rise or fall and your capital is at risk. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be assessed. Consider taking independent financial advice.

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