Taking the Path to Your First Home Step By Step
As a first-time buyer, one of the big questions you are likely to ask is, “How long does it take, from start to finish, to buy a home?” The length of this timeline can of course vary, but the ordering of the stages generally doesn’t. Between beginning the house hunt to turning the key in your new pad, you will likely move through the following stages:
It can often feel like a slow process, but understanding what each stage entails and how long it normally takes tends to make things a bit more manageable. On average, most people tend to move through the above timeline in about six months.
There is plenty to do before you start getting all dreamy eyed while looking at pictures of properties online. Long before you start hunting, you need to focus on the F word…
Getting your finances in order should be your top priority. Here are some of the most effective levers you can pull to get your finances in ship shape:
Start saving for a deposit
A deposit is a sum of money usually required by the lender before they grant you a mortgage. Cash ISAs, easy access savings accounts and regular savings accounts are all good ways of saving up some money. It’s also worth seeing if the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ could help you out. Start saving as soon as you can because the bigger the deposit you have, the better the mortgage deal you’ll be offered.
Check if you’re entitled to free government money
The Lifetime ISA (LISA) is a government scheme designed to help first-time buyers save for a deposit in a very tax efficient way. You can get a £1,000 bonus for every £4,000 you save within a tax year.
Check your credit score
Your credit score is one of the most important factors lenders will look at when they consider your mortgage application. Checking your credit score online for free is great way to get the ball rolling. Improving a poor score can take months, so make this a priority.
Can I Afford It?
Before applying for a mortgage, you should have a solid understanding of how much you can actually afford to spend on buying a home. A thorough assessment of affordability includes many things, but the key things that will need to be assessed are your income, assets and outgoings. In other words, all that you earn own and owe.
How Long Will Each Stage Take?
Once you have your finances in order, you are ready to start the house buying process in earnest.
On average, you’re looking at a period of anywhere between one to three months - but of course, it depends on how fussy you are!
Making an offer
The time between making an offer and the exchange of contracts (see later) is typically one to three months. Getting a mortgage in principle beforehand can help speed things along when it comes time to put the offer in, because it shows both the seller and estate agent that you’re a serious buyer.
Having your offer accepted
The turnaround on this stage is generally pretty quick – you will hear back on your offer within a day or two. You might be competing with other buyers, or the seller might take some time to mull over your offer, so this phase can sometimes take a little longer.
Getting a mortgage offer of approval
After you have submitted a mortgage application, it can take anywhere between 18 to 40 days to be approved. If you feel a bit lost at this stage, you can always use a mortgage adviser to help both simplify and accelerate the mortgage application process.
Your chosen lender will carry out a few checks before they offer you a mortgage. They want to make sure you can actually afford to pay back the loan, so they will perform an affordability assessment on you. They will also want to make sure the property you are looking to buy is actually worth the money you are requesting to borrow, so they will perform a valuation survey on the property.
Instructing a solicitor/conveyance
Conveyancing refers to the legal process of moving home ownership from one person to another and it can be a lengthy phase – it can take anywhere from 2 to 3 months.
Your property solicitor (otherwise known as a conveyancer) is busy during this period, completing paper work related to land registry, council obligations and money exchanges.
This phase contains a lot of moving parts. The time frame can therefore vary significantly depending on the specific circumstances of the sale.
Exchange of contracts:
This stage involves you and the seller signing the contracts. Your solicitor will exchange contracts with the seller’s solicitor. It is only at this point that the deal becomes legally binding. If you decide to pull out at this point you could lose your deposit.
Make sure you have buildings insurance in place before you exchange contracts.
Completing the purchase:
The last stage of buying a house involves paying both the house deposit and your solicitor’s fees. The purchase can complete after the searches carried out by your solicitor have cleared.
Then all that’s left for you and the seller to do is agree on a date when you will be handed the keys to your new home!
It’s tricky to accurately estimate how long this ‘completion’ phase will take because circumstances can vary. House surveys can hold up the sale of the property at this stage and are something to keep an eye on.
Staying In Control
Whilst you can’t always control the various aspects of the house buying timeline, you can always control how well informed you are.
Having a solid understanding of all of the stages of the process is your best bet to ensure the sale is completed with the minimum amount of stress!