Buying a House > Guide to Buying a House

Buying a house – like getting married or having your first baby – is one of live’s seminal moments. This could be your first step onto the housing ladder, away from a lifetime of flat shares or living with mum and dad (and either way, that’s one shared fridge too many). It could be the step up from your current semi to that detached family home you’ve always dreamed of. Or, perhaps the children have left the nest and you’re downsizing for a cosy retirement and great big wad of cash.

But, as with of live’s big moments, buying a house is every bit as difficult and stressful as it is important. And it can be a long process. Our informal research on where’s good to live in the UK often begins months, and even years, before we actually make up our mind to buy somewhere. And then we’ve got the familiar hurdles: offering on a property, getting a mortgage approved, homebuyers surveys and conveyancing, to name a few. Oh, and for those already on the housing ladder, there’s the little matter of selling your existing house.

To be your companion and guide throughout the process of buying a house, from the first pangs of wanting to own a house to sitting down comfortably in your new living room, buzzmove has compiled this handy guide. We hope you find it useful!

1. Researching Where You Want to Live

This first part of buying a house is the easiest part, and it’s also a movable feast. Unless you’re personal circumstances dictate otherwise, you can normally take your time during the research phase. And, if you can, it’s important that you do, because your new residence is not just for Christmas, it’s for the long term and maybe even life.

You probably have an idea, geographically speaking, where you want to live. Perhaps you’re drawn by the career opportunities available in the capital, so you’re looking for places to live in London. Perhaps you want to swap the grind of the city for a life in the country, in which case you should check out these regional guides over at our sister site (we’ve got one for every region of the UK, looking at regional geography, local history and lore, career opportunities and top towns).

If you’re moving to a different region or city, we recommend spending a bit of time there first. It’s amazing how much you can learn about the spirit of a place, even just in the course of a long weekend. Ask yourself questions like: can I imagine myself doing this commute every Monday to Friday? Or, do I see myself going into this centre of town at the weekend?

If you’ve spent an exploratory long weekend somewhere and you leave with plenty of stuff undone that you wanted to do, that’s usually a good sign. Of course, doing our research isn’t always this easy. Like if you’re moving abroad, for example. It’s easier to pop to Bristol on the weekend than Baghdad. In these cases, you should probably narrow down your field of options before doing a couple of very well planned research trips.

2. Housing Market Jargon Buster

Multitudes of houses are bought and sold every day. The market today is not the same market as yesterday – nor will it be the same tomorrow. But, for all this flux, some things never change: the often impenetrable housing-market and estate-agent jargon. To help you through the morass, we’re compiling a comprehensive house-buying jargon buster. So stay tuned!

3. Applying for a Mortgage

If you’re lucky enough to be a cash buyer, then you can skip this part. But the truth of the matter is: most people buying property in the UK need a mortgage.

The way this works is that a bank or building society lends you the money to buy a property now, and then you pay it back in instalments over an extended period (often 25 years). What makes this different from a standard loan is that the property you’re buying acts as a security for the money you’ve been lent. This means that, if for whatever reason you are unable to pay, your lender is able to repossess and sell your house – recouping their money this way instead.

You’ll be glad to know that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, things never get this drastic. However, it does have a few implications you need to be aware of. If there’s any clear factor that may affect the future value of the property, your mortgage application can be rejected – totally irrespective of your own credit history and solvency.

In most cases, it makes sense to do your mortgage research before you begin your house hunt. Otherwise you won’t have much idea how much you can afford to offer. A Mortgage in Principle (MIP) will give you a ballpark figure for how much a lender is likely to be able to offer you – and getting an MIP is not in itself a laborious process.

Your formal mortgage application is then a way for the lender to check the assumptions underlying the Mortgage in Principle. If you turn out to be as creditworthy as they thought you were, and the property is worth what you’re wanting to borrow, then your MIP can quickly be upgraded to a firm mortgage offer.

For more on the workings of mortgages, mortgages in principle and how to apply, see our recent buzzvault guide to getting a mortgage.

4. Putting in an Offer

Once you’ve got a mortgage up your sleeve and you’ve identified the home of your dreams, it’s time to go in and make that offer.

This is a major moment, of course, but remember that there’s still much more to do. And rejection is perfectly normal; in fact, it’s not uncommon to have to make multiple offers on different properties just to get one accepted. This is particularly the case in sellers’ markets, or in sought after areas, where sellers will find ways to pit potential buyers against one another. An example of this is the sealed-bid auction, where prospective buyers simply submit their best price.

For some sealed-bidding tactics, check out our recent piece on all you need to know as a buyer. And don’t forget: rejection is better than over-committing yourself financially.

At this stage, you’re bound to have a “mortgage in principle”. But your lender will want to check, for their part, that the value of the property you’re buying is in line with what they’re lending you; it is, after all, supposed to act as a security for the loan they’re giving you. And they will do this via a Mortgage Valuation Survey.

And it’s not just your lender who should be thinking about surveys. You’re about to make perhaps the biggest investment of your life, so it’ll pay to find out a little bit more about the property you’re buying.

5. It’s Time For Your Homebuyer Survey

So you’ve done your research and identified what looks like your dream home. But there’s a limit to how much you can really learn about it from a house viewing and talking to your estate agent. This is where the homebuyer survey comes in, giving you vital about what’s going on beneath your prospective new home’s glossy exterior.

This is designed to give you the peace of mind you need to proceed down the path of purchase. You wouldn’t buy a new laptop based on the glossy case – you would reassure yourself that the spec delivers what you need. And it’s the same with a house. The 3-figure sum you need for a survey is a drop in the ocean compared to the massive investment that is buying a house.

To conduct a homebuyer survey, you will need a chartered surveyor, so the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is a good place to start. Depending on your needs, RICS homebuyer surveys come in three levels of thoroughness:

Level 1: RICS Condition Report

The RICS Condition Report uses a traffic light system to identify any defects, but it is very limited beyond that, it does not include advice or recommendations for repairs or the likely cost of the repairs. It also does not cover less serious or minor defects that may become an issue in the future. The condition report typically costs between £100-250, depending on number of factors including property size.

Level 2: Homebuyers Report 

The HomeBuyers Report is a more detailed survey and the most popular option according to RICS. It’s a non-intrusive survey (the surveyor will not look behind furniture for example, or lift up floorboards) but it should still reveal any obvious rot or subsidence.

There are two options in this category – you can choose to have a survey with or without a valuation. You can also opt instead for a Home Condition Survey, offered not by RICS but by the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).

Level 3: RICS Full Structural Survey (Building Survey)

A Building or Full Structural survey is the most comprehensive survey and is suitable for all residential properties, using a 1, 2, 3 condition rating system to ensure you can identify the most serious issues. This is mainly targeted at larger or older properties, or if you are planning any major works. It should also include the surveyor’s opinion on any potential hidden defects, as well as potential repair options.

New-Build Snagging Survey

Another survey you may hear about is the New-Build Snagging Survey. This is an independent inspection to look for any issues with a new-build property. Costs usually starts from £300 depending on property size.

6. It’s Going Ahead: Time for Conveyancing

Conveyancing refers to the legal transfer of a property from one owner to another. This process encompasses all legal and administrative work that comes with buying a house. You can do your own conveyancing but, as this is quite a technical area, most home movers opt to enlist a professional surveyor.

The process begins as soon as you’ve put in an offer on a property and includes the conveyancing searches, the exchange of contracts, the registering of title and the payment of stamp duty. For full details on the end-to-end process, check out our dedicated guide:

7. Paying Stamp Duty

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) is a tax on the transfer of property payable within 30 days of your completion date (this is when your ownership over your new property becomes legally binding). SDLT concludes the conveyancing, representing the final legal hurdle you have to overcome. The amount owed has the potential to be hefty, and recent changes to SDLT regulation have bedevilled the issue. For a comprehensive and up-to-date overview, check out our recent stamp duty guide:

8. Let’s not Forget: Selling Your Existing House!

In order to make good on your offer and complete your move, you of course need to have a buyer lined up for your own home. As the buyer for your home in turn needs someone to move into their old home, we quickly develop what’s known as a moving chain. Once a chain gets beyond a certain length, it can start to make life difficult – the more parties there are in the chain, the more scope there is for problems to arise, and these hold up the entire chain.

This is why many home movers choose to sell their own property first and move into rented accommodation on a short-term basis – so that they only have to worry about getting their offer on a property accepted and not about courting buyers of their own at the same time.

Looking to sell? Then take a look at our portal on selling your house.

9. Booking Your Removals Company

Looking to move? The head over to our sister site buzzmove and get up to 6 free removal quotes from our trusted removals partners.

10. Preparing for Moving Day

And there we have it! It’s time to do your packing and get ready for the big day. Why not check out our the buzzmove moving house checklist in the meantime?