We take a look at the typical timeline for buying a house in the UK.

The length of time it takes to buy a house, and the steps needed to get there, can feel shrouded in mystery.

Especially if you’re a first-time buyer with little knowledge of the market. 

You might be thinking: where do I even start? 

Generally, the time that it takes to buy a home is six to 12 weeks. But this varies depending on a number of factors.

We explore these factors to demystify the process of buying a home.

Find the right property for you

The first step to buying a home is finding a property that suits your needs. Don't rush this step, you may need to view a variety of properties to understand what it is you really want from a home. 

Secure a mortgage

This sounds a lot scarier than it is. You can apply directly to a bank or a building society for a mortgage. 

Or you can use a mortgage broker or financial adviser. Most sellers and estate agents expect you to have a mortgage or agreement in principle (MIP or AIP) before making an offer. It proves you’re serious about buying.

An MIP is simply a certificate that states how much a lender would be willing to loan you to buy a house. 

You can usually get an MIP within 24 hours of applying, and it’s valid for 90 days. Some lenders have longer validity periods for new builds as there are often delays on completion.

Make an offer

Once you’ve found the right home and have your MIP, you need to make an offer. 

You’ll do this through the seller’s estate agent. It’s common to receive feedback on your offer in 24 to 48 hours. 

If your offer has been accepted, you should ask the agent to take the property off the market immediately. 

Instruct a credible conveyancer

Once the seller has accepted your offer, it’s time to instruct a conveyancer to help with the legalities. 

Mark Poole, Chiswick branch manager for Felicity J Lord, advises buyers not to go for the cheapest quote when it comes to selecting a conveyancer. 

Discuss a conveyancer’s fee structure and research their credentials before arriving at your decision. 

During the conveyancing process, expect there to be some back and forth between estate agents, solicitors, buyers and sellers.

Discussions may include simple requests for information, survey findings and coordinating dates for the exchange of contracts.

To make the process as smooth sailing as possible, make sure you have all the paperwork and information you need.

You might be questioning: “How long does conveyancing take?”

Unfortunately, there’s not a clear answer. That said, in an ideal world, conveyancing on a freehold property can take as little as six weeks. 

Because the freehold property owner owns the property and the land it sits on, conveyancing is often more straightforward on a freehold property than on a leasehold property.

The minimum timeframe for a leasehold sale is eight to 10 weeks. 

In practice, it can often take longer than this. This is because the land the leasehold property is built on is owned by someone other than the seller. They’re known as the freeholder. The more parties involved in the sale, the longer it’s likely to take.

The time taken between exchanging contracts and completing is one to two weeks. 

But it’s not unknown for people to exchange and complete on the same day.

Choose a surveyor

Before you buy a property, you need to get it surveyed. This is an expert inspection of a home (documented on file), to identify any issues with a property. 

You will need to instruct a RICs certified surveyor to carry out this process. 

Before choosing a surveyor, consider which type of survey you need, as well as a surveyor's price structure and credentials. This will help you determine the best surveyor for you.

Property surveys can usually be completed within one week. If the market is in a positive place, you might have to wait longer to get an appointment.

Complete your purchase

Congratulations. You’ve purchased your new home!

At completion, you need to pay the various fees required for new homeowners.

These include: 

  • Solicitor fees

  • Estate agent fees 

  • Stamp duty (unless you’re a first-time buyer purchasing a property under £300,000)

Factors that might slow down your timeline for buying a house

Conveyancing issues

Unfortunately, there are several factors that can delay the timeline for buying a house.

The most common is conveyancing issues. These include problems with paperwork, a disagreement between a buyer and a seller, or complications with the property itself. 

To help keep things moving on your end, ensure you have all of the right documents organised and signed. Remember to fill out information on forms promptly and accurately.

If there’s an issue with the property, or a disagreement arises between you and the seller, your conveyancer should offer a negotiation strategy. 

You can also help keep conveyancing delays at bay by regularly checking in with your conveyancer. They can then talk you through any hiccups and how they plan to overcome these.

If anything, this will help you feel more at ease during the process.

Results from the survey

Unwelcome surprises from the survey can also slow down the buying process. Particularly if they include structural issues. 

As a seller, one way to resolve this issue is to get a few quotes for the repairs and take that amount off the asking price.

As a buyer, you can also do this and ask for the cost of repairs to be deducted from the agreed price. Unless the seller has already factored this into their negotiations, they should be receptive.

Delays in the chain

Delays in your property purchase also arise as a result of chains. 

Property chains can be long and complex. They exist when homebuyers and sellers are linked because their respective sale or purchase is dependent on another property transaction.

Coordinating everyone to complete their transaction on the same day can be difficult.

Annabel Morbey, of the Stamford branch of Smiths Gore, recommends: 

“With a chain, establish a completion date as soon as possible for all parties and try to work that into the negotiations at an early stage.” 

If the chain is progressing too slowly, you can ask your estate agent to contact the agents of the other properties in the chain to keep things moving as fast as possible.

Help for first-time buyers

The homebuying process is likely to be significantly quicker for first-time buyers because they’re at the start of the chain.

If you’re a first-time buyer, you do not have a property to sell. As a result, you do not have to wait to find a buyer before moving forward with your purchase.

If you’re using the government’s Help to Buy scheme, you’ll be buying a new-build property. Though this means you’re not part of a chain at all, there are often construction delays.

How coronavirus may impact the timeline for buying a house

Unfortunately, the coronavirus lockdown is slowing down the homebuying process for some.

The government has requested that initial viewings are carried out virtually if possible. Physical viewings can only be done in strict time slots and must adhere to social distancing rules. 

This is slowing down the homebuying process from the very first stage. 

The conveyancing process is also slower. This is partly due to a backlog that has built up during lockdown, but also because physical inspections have been restricted.

Coronavirus: Get the latest property news and information

This has limited the number of appointments that can be carried out with surveyors in one day.

Removal firms are also changing their ways of working to adapt to social distancing measures. 

As a result of these factors, the timeline for buying a house is likely to be noticeably longer than during a normal market.

Ultimately, the time frame of buying a home in the UK varies, with a broad mix of factors impacting it.

But with these steps in mind, you can prepare to move forward with your home purchase in the best way possible. 

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