The House Buying Process: From Application to Completion

For a first time buyer, the process of buying a house can seem intimidating. You may find it helpful to understand the typical timeline of buying a house, so that you know what to expect at each stage of the journey, and what you need to do to keep the process moving along smoothly.

Below is our step by step guide for first time buyers, which explains the usual stages of buying a house, including what to look for when buying a house, how to apply for a mortgage, and what happens on your completion date.

However, it's good to remember that the house buying process can be different for everyone, as the stages involved and the length of time it takes may vary depending on your circumstances and those of the seller - so don't worry if your experience isn't identical.

The stages of buying a house for the first time

1. Save for a deposit on your first home

For many people, saving for a deposit can feel like the most difficult part of the house buying process. However, the more that you can afford to put down for your deposit, the less you'll need to borrow from a mortgage lender, and the wider choice of mortgage deals you are likely to have.

On our how much do you have for a deposit? page, we'll help you to understand how much you need to save for your first home deposit, and share our tips on how to kick-start your saving. We'll also tell you about our first time buyers savings accounts that could reward you for saving with us.

2. Find out how much you can afford to borrow

Before you start looking for your first home, you need to find out how much you could afford to borrow from a mortgage lender. Some estate agents may not allow you to view properties with them until they know that a lender is likely to provide you with a mortgage, so it's important to find this out as early as possible.

Our how much can I borrow? page explains how we calculate your mortgage affordability, as well as important things you need to know about your mortgage quote, also known as a 'Decision in Principle' or DIP. You can also use our online mortgage affordability calculator for an idea of how much we could be willing to lend you before you speak to one of our mortgage advisers, and find out which type of mortgage is best for you depending on your circumstances.

3. Start hunting for your perfect property

Once you know how much you can borrow for a mortgage, you gain a clear idea as to the value of properties that you can look at, and your search for your first home can truly begin! This is an exciting time but it's important to know what to look for when buying a house, so you can feel sure that the property you choose is the right one for you.

Here is a checklist of things that we recommend that you do, before and during your property viewings:

  1. Research the area you'd like to move to: Local estate agents will be able to tell you more about what a particular area has to offer, but you should also carry out your own research to make sure that it suits your lifestyle and needs. Things to consider include the quality of local transport, doctors, entertainment venues and schools.
  2. Visit the area at different times of day: Traffic and noise volumes can change throughout the day, so visit the town or street you're interested in at different times to get a general feel for it.
  3. Check out the property externally first: During your viewing, look out for potential problems such as loose roof tiles, cracks in exterior walls and poor quality or old window frames as these could cost you more money.
  4. Check for damp patches on walls or ceilings: These may be hidden behind furniture or large pictures. And look out for rusty radiators or pipes too as these can be indicators of a damp property.
  5. Consider areas that would be most costly to repair: If the property that you are viewing is old, ask whether the electrics or heating systems have ever been replaced, or whether a damp proof course has been installed. Ask to see guarantees and warranties as proof. You should also check the seller's Energy Performance Certificate as this will give you a good indication of the costs of energy bills at the property.
  6. Look closely at the kitchen and bathrooms: These are the most expensive rooms to refit, so if you don't like the current fixtures and fittings or they aren't in a good state of repair, you'll need to budget for replacements.
  7. Ignore the basic decor of the property: Everyone's tastes are different! Basic decorations aren't expensive to re-do, so look past the decor and see the potential to put your own stamp on the place.
  8. Find out which direction the property faces: If you like to have the sun in a particular room in your home, or you enjoy sitting outside in the sun, you will want to find this out.
  9. Consider the parking at the property: Is the driveway or garage big enough for your vehicle(s)? Or if you need on-street parking, is it suitable and safe for you and your visitors?

4. Make an offer to the seller

When you've found the property that you feel is right for you, you'll need to make an offer to the seller. How much you offer on the property should be an amount that you are realistically willing, and can comfortably afford, to pay. You can use our online mortgage repayment calculator for an idea of how much your monthly mortgage repayments on your chosen property could be.

You would usually make an offer on a house via the estate agent. The seller will then consider your offer, and let you know via the estate agent whether or not they would like to accept it.

As a first time buyer, you have the advantage of not being in a 'chain' and so you may be able to bargain on the purchase price of the property. However, while you can make an increased offer if your initial offer is not accepted, remember that other potential buyers may have made a higher offer and can continue to do so right up until the contracts are exchanged - this is known as 'gazumping'. It's only when you and the seller exchange your contracts that you are both legally bound to complete the sale.

5. Formally apply for a mortgage

If the seller accepts your offer, the purchase price of the property has been agreed and it's time to make your full mortgage application! If you obtained a Decision in Principle from Newcastle Building Society, you will have received your mortgage application form in the post along with the details of your mortgage quote.

It's important to take your time when completing your mortgage application form. Answer all of the questions in each section, and answer 'not applicable' if they aren't relevant to your application so that it can be processed quickly and efficiently. Send it back to us along with the payment for any associated fees, and a signed copy of your illustration in the pre-paid envelope that we provided.

When we receive your mortgage application, we will run credit checks to ensure that you can afford the mortgage loan, and ask you to provide documents to support your application - your mortgage adviser will let you know which documents are required, but they allow us to check your identity, your current address, and your income.

6. Arrange a valuation or surveys on the property

As part of your mortgage application, a survey needs to be carried out on the property that you want to buy. The purpose of this is to make sure that the value of the property is enough to cover the mortgage, and that it does not have any major problems.

Newcastle Building Society will arrange the survey for you, and you can generally choose from the following three options:

  • Valuation for mortgage purposes - This is the basic assessment that we will carry out on the condition of the property. A mortgage valuation is for our benefit only as it tells us whether or not the value of the property is enough to cover the amount of money you want to borrow from us. We would recommend that you also arrange a more detailed survey as the basic mortgage valuation won't necessarily highlight all aspects of the property that may cause you concern, or cost you money, in the future.
  • Homebuyer's report - This is a property survey carried out on your behalf. You will receive a report on the condition of the property, including any repairs or defects that will need your attention.
  • Structural survey - This is a comprehensive, or 'full' property survey which thoroughly examines its condition, and is especially recommended for older or more unusual properties. Your property surveyor will prepare a report for you on any current or potential defects with the property, and advise you on what needs to be done to rectify them.

How much does a property survey cost?

We will advise you on the exact cost of your property survey, but it will depend on the type you choose, and the purchase price/valuation of the property.

In some cases, the mortgage valuation may not necessarily reflect the agreed purchase price of the property. This may mean that your Loan to Value (LTV) may have changed and therefore restrict the mortgage products available to you. In this case we may need to switch you to another, more appropriate mortgage product, or we may be unable to offer you a mortgage at all.

Should this happen, any mortgage application or valuation fees would not be refunded to you, so it's essential that you are as accurate as possible when providing us with an estimated value of your property. There are several websites that can provide estimates of current property valuations and house prices, and we would encourage you to look at these prior to applying for a mortgage.

7. Choose a solicitor to handle your purchase

Around the same time as making your mortgage application, you should also choose a solicitor to handle the legalities of your property purchase. The main job of a solicitor is conveyancing, which means legally transferring home ownership from the seller to the buyer, but they also have several other responsibilities.

What do solicitors do when buying a home?

Your solicitor, or conveyancer, will liaise with the seller's solicitor to check that the legal title of the property you wish to buy is acceptable and can legally be transferred to you. They will also carry out local authority searches, draw up your contract, prepare transfer documents, check legal documents, perform Land Registry searches and much more.

The seller's solicitor will prepare the contract for sale and send this to your solicitor, along with the required title documents. Your solicitor will then check and approve the contract and title to the property on your behalf. The contract is the legal agreement between you and the seller, which sets out the price, terms and date on which the property will transfer into your ownership.

How to choose a solicitor

Choosing the right solicitor to carry out the conveyancing on your purchase can be daunting, but here are some tips you may find helpful:

  • Look locally - Consider looking for a solicitor who is local to you as they are likely to have a relationship with the local planners, and understand local regulations.
  • Ask for recommendations - If you have friends or family members who have recently moved house, find out which solicitors they used and what their experience was like with them.
  • Search online - The quickest way to find the widest number of local solicitors is to search online, and you can also browse their websites for an idea of how efficient and helpful they will be.
  • Consider the costs - Solicitors' fees (including the costs of local searches) are one of the biggest expenses of buying a house and can vary, so this may be the decider for you. However, it's perhaps more important that your solicitor is efficient, so call around and speak to solicitors for an idea of how helpful they will be - a good conveyancer won't mind taking the time to explain what they will do, as well as find out exactly what you need.

8. Accept your mortgage offer

Once we have received your mortgage application along with your supporting documents, and the valuation on your property has been carried out, we check everything to make sure we're satisfied. Then, we will make you a mortgage offer - this could take around a month.

This will state how much we will lend you, the term (number of years) we will do this over and the rate of interest that we'll charge you. A copy of your mortgage offer will also be sent to your solicitor who will then fully explain all of the terms and conditions of our offer to make sure you understand them and are happy to accept the offer.

9. Sign and exchange contracts, and arrange your buildings insurance

After you accept your mortgage offer, your solicitor will start the process of exchanging contracts with the seller, beginning with drafting your contract ready for you to sign. As part of this, there should be a list of fixtures and fittings included in the price of the property, such as kitchen appliances, carpets and curtains.

Once you've signed the contract, your solicitor will arrange a date to exchange this with the seller's contract. When this happens, you are both legally bound to the deal and neither of you can pull out without incurring some significant costs, so if you have any last minute concerns or doubts, you must raise these with your solicitor as soon as possible.

It's also very important to know that you will be legally responsible for insuring the property you are buying as soon as the contracts are exchanged, so you must arrange this ahead of the exchange date.

10. Get ready for moving day

Now is a good time to start finalising your plans for moving day, especially if you're planning to move in on or soon after the day that you complete the purchase of your first home. Read our tips on preparing for moving day to help you start the countdown, including when to change your address with your utilities providers, and tips on packing!

If you are currently living in rented accommodation, you should have given plenty of notice to your landlord by now so that you aren't stuck paying rent on a property that you aren't living in.

11. Agree a completion date

At the exchange of contracts, you should also agree a completion date for your purchase. This is the last legal hurdle that you face when buying a house, and is the day on which all of the money is transferred from your mortgage provider to the seller, via your solicitor. The ideal length of time between exchange of contracts and completion is between 1-2 weeks, allowing both you and the seller time to organise yourselves once you are all legally bound to complete.

Once the payment has been confirmed, you can pick up the keys to your first home from the estate agent. If Newcastle Building Society are your mortgage lender, we'll write to you on your completion date to confirm when your first mortgage payment will be collected.

12. Congratulations - you now own your first home!

Your first home is finally yours, and you can begin moving in and of course, putting your stamp on the place.

How long does it take to buy a house?

It's a common question, but there is no set length of time for the house buying process. It could take as little as six weeks from having an offer accepted on a property to completion of the purchase, or as long as a few months, and there are many factors that can speed up the process or slow it down.

However, if you're concerned about how long the process of buying a house is taking, you should speak to your solicitor who can advise you whether there are any issues or if you can do anything to move things along faster.

For all of our useful guides and tools to help you on your journey to buying your first home, visit our First Time Buyers page. To compare the different types of mortgage deals that are currently available, get in touch with one of our mortgage advisers to begin your mortgage application process.

Your mortgage will be secured on your home. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.

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