Buying a home can be a long and complex process, but typically it involves going through these steps:
Find out how much you can borrow
Call a mortgage broker to get an idea of how much you can borrow. He or she will be able to search the market for the best available deal and to help you maximise your borrowing power. You will need to give details of how much you earn and all of the things that you spend money on each month.
When working out how much you can afford to put down as a deposit, remember to keep some savings aside to meet stamp duty and other fees, and to furnish your new home. Get information about the different mortgages on offer, and start thinking about whether you want to go for a fixed or variable-rate deal.
Define your criteria
Decide what you are looking for in a property – whether you need parking and a garden, how many bedrooms you need, if it’s a flat, whether you want it to be freehold or leasehold – and pick an area on which to focus your search.
Consider what you want out of the location: are local schools, transport links and shops important to you? How long are you planning to live in the property for? Here are 10 things to think about before you rush into a property purchase.
Beginning the search
Start scanning the internet and local newspapers and register with estate agents - some properties sell before they are advertised online, so it is worth being on the agents’ books. If you see a property you want to look at, call the agent and arrange a viewing.
Bear in mind there are lots of different property websites out there you can use for your search – you don’t just have to use the big ones.
Out and about
Visit some properties. You are unlikely to find the home you want straight away, so don’t despair and don’t be tempted into edging over your budget if you don’t like the first place you look at. This is probably going to be your biggest financial outlay, so it is worth waiting until you find the right place.
Don’t be shy about asking questions when you are looking around a property, or afterwards. The estate agent should be able to provide you with basic details about the property, and to pass on any other queries to the people who are selling.
Making an offer
When you find somewhere you like, make an offer. Before you do so, try to glean as much information from the estate agent as possible. Ask how long it’s been on the market and if the seller wants a quick sale. Some websites have details of when a property was first listed, although this won’t tell you if the seller has switched to a new agent.
Many buyers initially make an offer below the asking price, and often this is accepted. You may want to start low and negotiate with the agent to find a price that satisfies both parties. But if you want to be sure you get the property you like – and you think it is worth the asking price – you may want to offer the full amount straight away.
If your offer is accepted, ask the estate agent to take the property off the market. You now need to instruct a solicitor. If you need to find a solicitor, ask for a few quotes and follow up personal recommendations.
Getting a mortgage
Once your offer has been accepted, call your broker or a lender to sort out your mortgage application. At this point you will need to provide lots of paperwork showing your income and outgoings.
Instruct your solicitor to start working on a contract. They will also send the seller a list of questions to answer, including a questionnaire asking which fixtures and fittings they intend to leave when they move out.
Your lender should arrange a surveyor to value the property within a few days of agreeing the mortgage in principle. Its valuation will be very simple and you should arrange your own survey to get an idea of what problems there may be with the property.
To save money, it can sometimes be worth asking the lender’s surveyor to also put together a survey for you, but this is not always the case. Ask for a quote and compare it with quotes from other surveyors - again, ask around for recommendations.
The most expensive and comprehensive option is to ask the surveyor for a full structural survey of the building, and this is particularly worth doing if you are buying a property that is very old, has been extensively renovated or clearly needs work. It is also a good idea if you are planning to build an extension or structural changes to the building. However, a cheaper – albeit less comprehensive – homebuyer’s report should highlight any major problems and is a good option in other circumstances.
A good surveyor will talk to you before the survey to find out if you have any particular concerns and afterwards to highlight and explain any issues.
Read the survey when it arrives. If there are a lot of problems with the property and you are not happy to carry on with the purchase, then act quickly to let everyone know, before you incur any other costs.
If you do want to pursue the purchase, but the survey advises that you get quotes for work that needs doing, arrange for that to be done - you will need to talk to the estate agent to arrange access to the property.
If a lot of work needs doing, you may want to go back to the seller and renegotiate on the price you are paying for the property.
Exchange of contracts
After your solicitor or conveyancer has completed all the necessary checks you’ll be asked to sign a contract legally committing you to the purchase. At this point you will need to pay a deposit for the property – usually at least 5% of the price but more typically 10%. At this point you will usually agree a date to complete the sale.
Book a removal van
When you know your moving date you can start organising how to get your possessions to your new home. This could involve hiring a van and doing it yourself or hiring professional removal men. Either way, you should act fast to give yourself the best chance of finding a company to help when you need at a good price. You may also want to hire professional packers to pack up your belongings.
Your lender will expect you to have buildings insurance in place for the date of completion. It will quote a rebuild cost in its valuation – this is the amount you need to cover.
This is when the property finally becomes yours. When your solicitor tells you that the sale is completed you can pick the keys up from the estate agent. This will probably be the day that you move in, unless you are having work done in advance. It is likely to be a stressful day, even if everything goes according to plan, but should feel worthwhile after your first night in your new home.