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How long does it take to buy a home?

How long is too long when it comes to buying a home? Here’s how long it takes, the steps involved and what might slow you down when purchasing a property.

Guest Author
Words by: Nicky Burridge

Contributing Editor

It can seem like the process of buying a home is shrouded in mystery.

What happens once you've made an offer? What's the next thing you need to do? And when do mortgage brokers and conveyancers come in? 

A good rule of thumb is to expect the sale process to take 12 weeks from when you find the right home. 

But it varies depending on a number of factors. It could be as quick as six weeks and it could take up to three months.

Let’s take a look as what’s involved in buying a home and how long each stage should take.

1. Start your search for your perfect home

Timeline: 3 to 12 months

The first step to buying a home is to find the perfect property for you.

Don't rush this step. Browse homes for sale and look far and wide. The more properties you consider, the easier it is to understand what you really want in your next home.

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Once you've found a home you like, give the estate agent a call or pop them a message through Zoopla.

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They'll get back to you within a day or two so you can line up a viewing.

Go and view as many properties as you can to understand what you really want from your next home.

Don’t forget to save homes to your shortlist and set up instant alerts for your search. You’ll be the first to know when a property that meets your needs comes onto the market.

That puts you in a great position to view it first and prepare to make an offer.

2. Secure a mortgage

Timeline: 2 to 4 weeks

This sounds a lot scarier than it is. In reality, it should be a fairly straightforward part of the process.

It’s best to secure a mortgage while you’re looking for your next home. That way, when you find ‘the one’, you’re ready to put an offer in.

You can apply directly to a bank or a building society for a mortgage. Or you can use a mortgage broker or financial adviser.

Either way, they’ll ask you about your financial situation and what deposit you have. You might have a couple of meetings to run through the mortgage options open to you.

This includes choosing a fixed rate term, which sets out how long you’ll fix your mortgage rate for. It’s usually three or five years.

Once you’re approved for a mortgage, you’ll get an agreement in principle (AIP).

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

Most estate agents will expect you to have an AIP in place when you make an offer. It shows you’re serious about buying and can fund the offer you make.

You should get your AIP within days of applying, and it’s usually valid for 90 days. This means you have three months to make an offer on a home using that AIP. 

Some lenders have longer validity periods for new-build homes as there can be delays on completion.

What types of mortgages are there?

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3. Make an offer

Timeline: 1 week

Once you’ve found the right home and have your AIP, it’s time to make an offer. Exciting!

Although this feels a bit daunting, it’s surprisingly easy to do.

Just phone up the seller’s estate agent or ping them an email. 

Tell them the offer you’re making, and you can include your reasons if you’re offering under the asking price.

There’s more to it than just the price. So you can mention some of the benefits of having you as the buyer.

For example, you could say what your deposit is and highlight the fact that you’ve got an AIP ready to go.

And, if you're a first time buyer, mention that you have no chain. You can be flexible with the move date and work around the seller’s timeline.

The estate agent has to pass every offer on to the seller. You’ll usually get feedback within 24 to 48 hours.

If the seller accepts your offer, ask the agent to take the property off the market straight away.

But be ready for a counter-offer. The seller might come back to negotiate, so have a figure in your mind that you’d be willing to go up to. 

You don’t have to respond there and then though. Take a day or two to think about it and discuss with anyone you’re buying with.

It may take a few days for you and the seller to reach an agreement.

4. Instruct a conveyancer

Timeline: 6 weeks to 3 months

Once the seller has accepted your offer, it’s time to instruct a conveyancer to help with the legalities. A conveyancer is a solicitor who deals in property law.

Discuss their fee structure and research their credentials before arriving at your decision. 

The conveyancer will work in your interest to check the home and all the paperwork. The conveyancer will run requests for information, look at survey findings and coordinate dates for the exchange of contracts.

Get a conveyancer quote from Yourkeys

This can be the longest part of the process of buying a home. There will be lots of back and forth between your conveyancer and the seller’s, as well as with the estate agent.

How does a solicitor help you to buy a house?

You might wonder how long conveyancing takes. But unfortunately, there’s no clear answer. 

In an ideal world, conveyancing on a freehold property can take as little as six weeks. 

As 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.

Leasehold sales typically take longer, with a minimum timeframe of around eight to 10 weeks for conveyancing. 

Though in reality, it can often take longer than this because the land the leasehold property is built on is owned by someone other than the seller. The owner is known as the freeholder. 

The more parties involved in the sale, the longer it’s likely to take.

Is a leasehold property harder to buy and sell?

5. Get a survey done

Timeline: 1 week

Before you buy a property, you need to get it surveyed. This is an expert inspection of a home to identify any issues. 

First of all, choose which type of survey you want to go with. There are three types, which vary in their level of detail.

What type of survey do I need?

Once you’ve chosen the type of survey, look at surveyors. Consider their credentials and price structure, and make sure they’re RICs-certified.

Property surveys can usually be completed within a week or so. But you might have to wait longer for a slot if the market’s busy.

6. Exchange contracts and complete your purchase

Timeline: 1 day to 2 weeks

It takes one day to two weeks for contracts to be exchanged and then the sale to complete.

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

Completion day is when when ownership is transferred from seller to buyer and you can move into your new home.

And that's it! Find out what time you can pick up the keys, get packed up and start picking paint colours. It's all yours!

Remember, upon completion you'll need to pay the various fees required for new homeowners.

They include:

  • solicitor's fees

  • estate agent's fees 

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

Work out what stamp duty you'll pay

Factors that might slow down your buying timeline

There are several factors that can delay the timeline for buying a house.

Let’s take a look at things that can slow down the home buying process and how to help speed them up.

Conveyancing issues

The most common delays are down to conveyancing issues. 

The common problems are hurdles with paperwork, a disagreement between a buyer and a seller or complications with the property itself.

All you can do is make sure you have all the right documents signed and organised. And remember to fill out information on forms promptly and accurately.

How to speed up the home-buying process

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

Stephen Binder, associate partner at the Grantham office of Fine & Country, says:

"Where an estate agent can really make a difference here is by chasing this process on and making sure all parties are kept in the loop.

"For example, within 48 hours of emailing a draft contract, they'll call up the solicitor to see if it has been successfully received.

"Constant feedback reduces stress, delays and any confusion in the process. A good estate agent will do this and if there is a problem, will strive to solve it. They are the oil in the engine."

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

Catching up with your conveyancer can help you feel more at ease during the process.

Unwelcome surprises from the survey

The survey results can also slow down the buying process if issues are found. This is particularly the case for more serious structural issues.

Make sure you consider the cost of fixing any issues, and whether you’re willing to do these yourself.

You could either ask the seller to fix them or ask the costs to be deducted from your purchase price.

Sellers are normally open to this unless they’ve already factored it in.

These negotiations can add a few days or maybe a couple of weeks to the process.

Delays in the chain

You might see delays come as a result of a problem elsewhere in the property chain. 

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.

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.

Annabel Morbey from the Stamford branch of Smiths Gore says:

"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."

How to stop your property chain collapsing

Do first-time buyers complete more quickly?

The home-buying process is usually quicker for first-time buyers because they’re at the start of the chain.

As you don’t have a property to sell, you won't have to wait to find a buyer before moving forward with your purchase.

This can make your offer on a home more attractive to a seller, as they know you can be quick to move. You’re also likely to be more flexible with your exchange, completion and move dates.

But it depends on how long the chain is after you. If there are lots of other people involved, it might take just as long to buy your first home.

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.

Ultimately, the timeframe of buying a home in the UK varies. There is a broad mix of factors that could make it take longer. 

It’s hard to be patient, particularly when you’re excited about moving into your new home.

But remember that estate agents and conveyancers will move as quickly as they can. If things are going slowly, it's probably because they're solving issues for you.

Keep communicating with your conveyancer and the estate agents involved. Be responsive and organised, and you’ll be on your way to your new home in no time.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.