It’s probably fair to say that the process of buying a house in England and Wales has never been described as “straightforward”. You’ll have to deal with estate agents and lenders, conveyancers and surveyors, each of which have their own particular brand of jargon – so it’s no surprise that so many people find the experience quite stressful. In this guide we’ll walk you through the main stages of buying a house, and give some handy tips that should help take at least some of the hassle out of your home-buying experience.
If you want a quick overview of the costs involved, try our free Moving House Cost Calculator.
Once you have formed a rough idea of where you want to live and the type of property you want to buy, your first port of call will likely be an estate agent. Estate agents act on behalf of the house seller, but are bound by strict regulations and codes of conduct so they also have a responsibility to deal with potential buyers honestly and ethically. When dealing with estate agents it’s important to ask the right questions.
These days some people sell their homes through an online estate agent rather than a local agent, and for buyers there can be pros and cons to dealing with each. An estate agent with a local office may have more ground-level knowledge about areas and properties in your town or city. That said, online agents will often have access to the same property data and statistics, and are held to the same professional standards.
Bear in mind that searching for properties online is easy and convenient … but if you only use an online firm you could be missing out on the ideal house that has just gone up in your local estate agent’s window!
Get your mortgage offer approved
For many homebuyers the mortgage application is perhaps the most stressful part of the process. Take control of this at the outset by obtaining a copy of your credit records (via Equifax, Experian or Callcredit) to ensure there’s nothing that might affect your chances of getting a mortgage. Search for the best mortgage deals by using mortgage price comparison sites, or by using an independent mortgage broker.
It’s a good idea to get a mortgage agreement in principle (sometimes referred to as a “decision in principle” or “mortgage promise”) early on, as this lets you know how much you are likely to be able to borrow, and can also work to your advantage when negotiating with estate agents and sellers. Whether you deal with the mortgage application yourself or use a broker, stay on top of things and respond to any requests for additional information or clarification quickly. Once approved, you will receive a formal mortgage offer.
Organise a conveyancing solicitor
Buying a house is legal transaction, and you will need to engage a conveyancing solicitor to deal with the exchange of contracts between you and the buyer, and updating the Land Registry. They will also carry out various “searches” relating to the property ownership, status, planning permissions, boundary disputes and so on.
Your estate agent may recommend or offer to refer you to a solicitor. Bear in mind that they’re likely to be receiving a commission for doing so, and it may not represent the best value for you. Often you’ll be better off arranging your own solicitor, using either a local firm or a conveyancer from our approved panel of Conveyancing Solicitors and Licensed Conveyancers. Firms that operate online firms are usually cheaper, but be sure to look for impartial testimonials or reviews so you know what to expect.
Arrange a survey on the property you've made an offer on
As part of the mortgage application process, your lender will arrange for a surveyor to provide a property valuation. It’s important to remember that this is a limited report designed to assure the lender that the property value is in line with the mortgage amount. It is not a full survey and may overlook property faults or defects that could cause you problems further down the line.
It is highly recommended that you arrange for a more detailed report from an RICS regulated surveyor. You can use the same surveyor that your lender used for the valuation, but it’s often cheaper to shop around. Depending on the nature of the property, you may need either a HomeBuyer Report or a Building Survey. You can get instant quotes from qualified and reviewed surveyors from our panel of over 250 chartered surveyor firms using our surveyors quote form.
Arrange your removals
Organising the move of your furniture and belongings to your new home isn’t something you should leave to the last minute – we suggest making arrangements at least four weeks in advance. We also strongly recommend only using a removals firm that has had its insurances checked, has a Code of Practice, is credit worthy and has a good online reviews.
The weeks before a move present a great opportunity for making tough decisions on what items to keep and what can perhaps be thrown out, sold or donated to charity. Once you know what’s coming with you, talk to your remover about their services and your requirements – for example, do they provide a packing service, or do you have any items that may need special consideration (such as musical instruments). In some areas it may also be necessary to arrange visitors’ parking permits for the removal vans. You can get instant removals quotes for your move by using our online removals quotes form.
Arrange insurance for your new home
Once you’ve exchanged contracts, you’ll also have to remember to arrange buildings and contents insurance for your new home. You may decide to stick with your existing insurer and transfer your policies to the new property, but this is also a good opportunity to shop around for a better deal. Once again, your lender or mortgage broker may try to sell you either their own insurance or refer you to an affiliated company – use price comparison sites or an impartial insurance broker to find the best deals.
If there’s a single day in the home-buying timeline that has the potential to send your blood pressure soaring, it’s the day you actually move into your new home. As with so many things, organisation is the key to success. Have everything planned and stick to that plan as rigidly as possible … while still allowing some leeway for unexpected eventualities.
In the prior days and weeks you will have made arrangements with utility providers, arranged for mail to be redirected, and so on. On the day itself, good communication with your removals firm is essential, so ensure that they have a note of your mobile number (and you theirs) so you can keep in touch. It’s also a good idea to keep contact details for your conveyancer and the estate agent close to hand, just in case.
Work with the removals company to ensure your furniture and belongings arrive at your new home and find their way into the right rooms. Check your inventory carefully before signing off on the job – and keep an eye out for any damage or breakages.
After the removals team is gone you’ll still have a lot to do in terms of unpacking and getting your home the way you want it … but don’t forget to take a deep breath, unwind and remind yourself that the hard work is behind you and it’s time to enjoy your new home.