Coronavirus Employees' Help
1 August 2021
Buying a home is one of the most stressful things you'll do, and it hasn't been made any easier by the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing the rough outline of how the process works though will make the ride much smoother. This guide walks you through 25 steps to buying a home, including timescales.
The process is slightly different in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For the 25 steps to buying a home in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, see our full guide.
This guide was written before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the fundamentals of this guide still stand, if you're currently in the process of buying a property you could find that it takes you longer than anticipated, owing to coronavirus and lockdown.
6 weeks - 8 months
Find a property: Research the area, scour estate agents and search websites.
Put in an offer: Tell the seller what you're willing to pay and any conditions.
Offer accepted to conclusion of missives: 2 - 6 weeks
It's accepted in principle: Now any conditions of your offer need to be met and you need to get your mortgage application under way.
Missives concluded: All conditions have been met, you've agreed a date of entry and you are contractually committed to the purchase.
Missives concluded to date of entry: 1 day +
Date of entry: You hand over the rest of the cash in exchange for the keys and deeds. The property's now legally yours.
There's no point getting excited about the property of your dreams if you've no idea whether you can afford it. Avoid unnecessary disappointment and if you haven't already, go back and read our How Much Can I Borrow? guide to check if you:
Have the upfront funds you'll need, and...
Can borrow the additional cash you'll need. If you have, pat yourself on the back and skip to step 3.
Our How Much Can I Borrow? calculator will help you tot up how much you might be able to borrow, based on your income.
To be more confident (and make yourself more attractive to estate agents and sellers), use our Boost Your Mortgage Chances guide to find the mortgage that's right for you and get an application in principle (AIP) done.
An AIP is a mini-application where the lender checks your information and your credit file and decides how much it might be willing to lend to you.
An AIP is not a binding offer and the lender can change its mind. For example:
An AIP can also be referred to as a 'decision in principle' and sometimes even a 'mortgage in principle', so keep an eye out for the language.
What is conveyancing? Conveyancing is the legal process that transfers a property from one person to another.
As well as solicitors, there are licensed conveyancers, who are specialist property lawyers. They do all the legal paperwork, Land Registry and local council searches, draft the contract and handle the exchange of cash.
This all comes at a price and can cost anywhere up to £1,500.
DON'T automatically use the estate agents' firm
It's probably a commission-based recommendation. Certainly speak to it and use its price as a benchmark
DON'T assume they need to be nearby.
Consider someone from further afield. Don't assume they need to close to you - Glasgow or Edinburgh will do.
DO check out the web.
Some MoneySavers rate cheap 'n' cheerful internet-based conveyancers that do it all via the phone and net. Here are some companies that our forumites have had good experiences with: MyHomeMove Conveyancing and Online Conveyancing. But nothing is guaranteed - feedback (as with all solicitors) varies, so please do your own research.
DON'T go for a rock-bottom price if you're in a rush.
The cheapest companies often work in bulk and can be slower. If time's an issue, that can be a problem. Pick a company that sounds professional and answers emails promptly.
DO check for hidden extras.
Ask for a full fee breakdown. Do they include bank money transfer fees, stamp duty forms, land registration fees and drainage and environmental searches? Some firms even charge extra to verify your ID.
DON'T automatically use the solicitor who did your divorce.
Pick a firm that focuses on conveyancing or at least has a specialist department. Ask how many cases it handled last year. Just because someone did your divorce doesn't mean they can do this job too.
DO ask if they'll chuck in a will for free.
A top tip from money_maker: “Get your will done with your solicitor at the time, as some will do it for free since they are already being paid." For more no-cost or low-cost wills, see Free & Cheap Wills.
DON'T be shy.
Ensure you fully understand what your legal adviser will and won't do on your behalf.
DO ask if they've a holiday booked.
Will they be on holiday any time in the next three months? If they'll be backpacking in Peru on your preferred completion date, best to pick a different solicitor who will be in Scotland to complete your purchase with you.
Once you've found a solicitor, you can get the ball rolling with the rest of the process - househunting and starting to get a mortgage.
You'll probably need to ask the estate agent to email you this. Check how old the report is. If the property's been on the market for a long time, things could have changed.
In Scotland, properties tend to be advertised in one of three ways:
eg, o/o £200,000. The seller is expecting to exceed this figure. You can still bid lower, but the seller is expecting at least £200,000.
eg, OIRO £300,000. The seller is hoping for around that figure and expects to achieve and maybe exceed it. But if there isn't a lot of interest, this shows they're not ruling out taking a slightly lower figure.
If it's on an offer basis, you can approach the estate agent to find out the bidding situation. If there's a lot of interest, you may be asked to submit your written offer (via your solicitor) by a closing date.
You won't be told how much anyone else has bid and the seller will be presented with all the offers at the same time so they can pick the most attractive bid. It's not always just about price, other factors may put you in a stronger position, such as if you can move in quicker or aren't having to wait for a sale to go through.
This has become more popular over the years and states the exact figure the seller wants. When you make an offer, the estate agent'll pass it straight to the seller to either accept or reject. Basically, it's a race - first to make an acceptable offer gets it.
The advantage here is that you aren't competing against other unknown bids, you just need to be the first that's willing to pay the price. You can still offer less and the estate agent has to present it to the seller, but it's less likely to be accepted.
Don't be put off though, especially if the property has been on the market for a while. The seller may go for it or come back with a revised figure.
If your offer simply states the price you're willing to pay, this is an unconditional offer. If the seller accepts it, then you'll have quickly reached a point where you're contractually bound to buy. Be very careful!
If you wanted to make an unconditional offer to boost your chances of acceptance, you would either need to rely on the survey in the Home Report or pay for a new survey before you make your offer. Paying for one means you're forking out on a house that you haven't had an offer accepted on, so it could be money you lose.
If your offer has conditions in it, then the deal isn't binding until the conditions have been agreed to, met and confirmed. So it won't be as attractive to the seller as an unconditional offer. The most common condition is 'subject to survey'.
Some other examples of conditions:
Subject to satisfactory mortgage offer.
This is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You can't apply for a mortgage until your offer has been accepted and if someone else puts in an unconditional offer, you might not get it.
But this isn't as bad as not putting it in as a condition, becoming contractually bound, and then NOT being able to get the mortgage and getting sued by the seller. Discuss this with your solicitor.
A good one should warn you not to become contractually bound to purchase (step 17) until they've seen your mortgage offer papers.
Subject to seller leaving the white goods and curtains.
If it's not stated in the sales particulars and not in your offer, don't assume it'll be there when you move in. There have been ocassions where sellers have taken everything with them when they leave, down to lightbulbs and the fire grate.
It's important that you set out what you want in the offer if it's a dealbreaker. Otherwise, if it's not in the offer, you can't assume that the seller will adhere to it.
Try not to stress. The estate agent will let you know if your offer's been accepted.
Mini celebration time. But there's still a lot to do, so don't get carried away.
As an agreement in principle (AIP) is usually only valid for 30 or 90 days (depending on the lender), if your search took a while, it might have expired. But if you followed our Boost Your Mortgage Chances guide's steps and got accepted before, you'll probably be accepted again.
As the range of mortgage products on offer can change on a daily basis, you shouldn't automatically go back to the first lender anyway. So it's definitely worth a quick check of the market again to see if you can find a better deal.
It's worth the extra effort to do another check. Getting a 4% deal instead of 3% on a £150,000 repayment mortgage over 25 years will cost you £24,000 more.
There are many lenders and only one has the best deal for you. What's the chance it's your current bank? If you've a good credit score, then other lenders are likely to want you just as much. Read our Cheap Mortgage Finding guide, or if you already know what you're doing, head to our Mortgage Best Buys tool to search the market for a top rate.
It's one of the biggest financial decisions of your life, so get it right.
Make sure you get a personalised mortgage illustration. This document will detail all the key features of the mortgage and you'll definitely need this further on in the process. So, scan it, keep it and file it.
Once the AIP is done, the next step is to convert it to a full application.
This is where the lender makes sure it is happy to:
Lend to you.
It'll check that the information you've given is accurate by asking for evidence such as your payslips.
Lend on the property you want to buy.
The property is the lender's security for the loan, meaning if you don't pay your mortgage, it can repossess the property and sell it to get the money back. So the lender will want to be confident the property is fit for this purpose.
This is why part of the application process involves an independent valuer assessing the property and reporting to the lender.
Each lender will have its own rules about the type of property it's willing to lend on that are largely related to the lender's confidence in being able to sell it again.
Lenders may be wary if a property is above a commercial premises, or is in a high rise, or is made of unusual materials etc.
The application form should check the majority of these so the lender can tell if it's a no-go before wasting a valuer's time. But if there's something odd about the property, point it out at application stage.
You cannot do a full application (or get a formal mortgage offer) without having a property in mind with an offer already accepted.
While your mortgage application is being looked at by the lender, your solicitor will start to carry out the necessary searches. Searches and prices vary based on location.
Although some of them are optional, it's advisable to get them all carried out and your mortgage lender will insist on some of them. For example:
Local authority searches. These check to see if there's anything you need to be aware of, such as building control issues, enforcement actions and nearby road schemes.
Drainage searches. Check it is connected to sewers (approx £35).
Environmental search. Checks land isn't contaminated (approx £30).
These searches cost money and your solicitor will usually charge you for these early on in the process, so it's not out of pocket. There's usually no way to minimise these costs.
To put it politely, some solicitors "work at their own pace". Make regular phone calls to get papers processed quicker. Remember, you're paying them. If they don't meet your expectations, try writing to a senior partner.
"Chase your solicitor. They often won't have picked up the file as often as you think. If you chase, don't worry about bugging the solicitor. Trust me - we need to be bugged.
"Remember you are paying for their services and they are working for you. Don't worry about annoying them, as most clients are fairly annoying!"
- MoneySaving lawyer ronnie-the-red
During this period the solicitors will be writing back and forward (these letters/emails are called the ‘missives') to negotiate on the offer conditions. Once these are agreed, they'll keep in touch to check the conditions are on track to be met.
Another celebration point. You now have a formal offer that says the lender is willing to lend you the money to buy that property. Get the bubbly on ice and then carefully check the mortgage offer is accurate.
The lender may well have included another copy of the illustration, but now is the time to dig out that original one you safely put away. You need to cross-reference the original with your mortgage offer to be sure you're being offered exactly what you applied for.
If there are any discrepancies, go back to your broker (or lender if you went direct) and question him/her.
Everything on this document needs to be accurate, especially your personal information and the figures. If not, raise it with your broker or solicitor to get it resolved ASAP.
A serious mistake could mean the lender insists on credit-checking you again or you end up borrowing too little and there's a shortfall when it's time to complete the purchase. Even something like a misspelt name could cause delays, expense and at worst, could mean the mortgage offer is withdrawn.
The mortgage offer will state what conditions need to be met before your lender will hand over the cash. It's your solicitor's job to check these have been met, so don't think you can ignore any of them.
If you didn't do this before you offered, now is the time. Now you're sure you can borrow what you need, it's time to make sure that the property is in good condition. This is the point that most people say, “but the property has already been checked when the mortgage valuation was done.”
Yes, the mortgage lender has carried out a basic valuation to assure itself that it is happy to lend on it, but this gives you no protection at all. If the property were to fall down the day after you bought it, it would be tough luck. Yet too many people rely on the mortgage valuation.
Forumite moonstick's tale shows why you shouldn't rely on the bank's valuation.
"The back of the master bedroom has a significant slope."
"I've just bought my first house, a 1940s semi. On the day I moved in, I noticed the back of the master bedroom has a significant slope where it had been extended. I had a joiner come round to look at it – and he said it was a structural defect.
"When I applied for the mortgage, the bank did a valuation survey, which stated the house was in good condition. It'll probably cost a few grand to fix."
Did you know that sometimes a valuation is limited to a ‘drive by'? The valuer drives past the house and the inspection is limited to what can be seen through the car window. Unless you're an expert, get a professional opinion. If a problem is found, it's a good reason to go back to the estate agent and renegotiate on price. This may seem a bit late in the process, but a survey is an additional cost so there's no point in shelling out until you know you can get a mortgage.
There are 3 main types of survey:
This normally costs from £400 and is suitable for conventional properties less than 50 years old.
Sometimes your mortgage lender may offer you a homebuyer's survey. It's already sending a valuer around to check the property, so often the valuation survey and the homebuyer's report can be done by one person.
Check the costs of doing this via the lender as opposed to arranging a separate homebuyer's report. Just remember, if the lender's valuer does the homebuyer's survey, then the lender will see a copy too.
The second is a full structural survey. More relevant for older or quirkier residences, these are much more detailed, covering everything and can cost up to £1,300, but often are well worth the expense. It could well give you ammunition to haggle down the price.
Whichever you choose, just be sure to get clear on what they cannot check. They should try to access attic space, etc, but they can't start knocking lumps in walls or lifting carpets in someone else's house (unless the seller agrees to it).
Even those buying new-builds might still have to get out their wallets. A snagging survey pinpoints defects and unfinished bits, so you can push the developer to correct them before completion.
However, you can download great snagging lists for free on the internet and check for yourself (or get a very detail-oriented friend to help you). Have a look at snagging.org.
It's also worth accompanying the surveyor. They're likely to say far more verbally than they'd write in a report. To get instant quotes from surveyors in your area, fill in your details at Reallymoving.com.
If the survey finds any nasties, ask a reputable builder for repair costs. Ask the vendor to either fix it before completion or knock the total off the price.
Do get a second opinion, especially with damp. What might seem like minor work can be complex and expensive, as forumite Canny-cat's story shows.
What might seem like minor work can be complex and expensive, as forumite Canny-cat's story shows. You can get a specialist timber and damp report carried out that will check for problems such as damp and woodworm. These usually cost £150-250.
"You couldn't notice the damp for a few months"
"Our survey told us the house had a minor case of damp that would cost £400 to solve. It seemed so minor we didn't even bother to renegotiate with the seller. Once we'd moved in, we discovered the full extent of the damp problem and paid over £4,000, plus associated redecoration costs, on tanking the entire ground floor.
"The sellers had the walls skimmed shortly before putting on sale, so you couldn't notice the damp for a few months. Then the metal wall fixings and sockets started rusting, the plaster started to salt and bubble, and I developed asthma."
"But I don't even own it yet," you cry.
You might not own it, but once you reach the next stage, you're legally bound to buy, so it's better to be safe than sorry.
Check your mortgage valuation report for the rebuild value that the surveyor estimated. It might not be anything like the purchase price, but you need to be sure you'd have enough cover to rebuild it if something did happen.
Once all the conditions of the offer have been met, you (or your solicitor on your behalf) will then sign a document to confirm you have ‘concluded missives' and will confirm the ‘date of entry', when the seller will be paid and you'll get the keys.
Now you can celebrate. You and the seller are now legally bound to complete the sale and purchase of the property (even if it burns down tomorrow, hence the need for having buildings cover before you even own the place).
Your solicitor will give you a completion statement with a clear breakdown of the money you still need to pay. This will include any outstanding deposit, stamp duty, solicitors' fees etc.
About 10 days before your date of entry, your solicitor will ask you to transfer your deposit to their account so it's cleared. Your solicitor will want evidence of where the funds have come from to follow money laundering laws.
Before completion, your solicitor has to check that the seller still owns the property and that you've not been made bankrupt since the lender issued your mortgage offer.
The solicitor will send the full payment to the seller's solicitor and receive their title deeds and proof that the seller's mortgage has been cleared (so their bank no longer has any claim to the house).
Legally it's called Land & Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT). Either way, you have 30 days for your solicitor to send the Stamp Office your transfer deed. However, most solicitors will ask for the cash on or before your date of entry.
Your solicitor will register your details with Registers of Scotland. They keep details of who owns properties in Scotland, and charge a fee when ownership's changed.
You'll need to pay your solicitor around £200-£400 to do this, depending on your property price, though cheaper properties will pay less (and more expensive properties will pay more).
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