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Your complete guide to getting on the property ladder

For everything you need to know about buying a home, follow our step-by-step guide and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Guest Author
Words by: Matilda Battersby


From finding a home that fits your needs to finally completing your sale and moving in, we're here to help you every step of the way. 

Let's take a look at all of the different steps involved in buying a home.

1. Work out your budget

How much you can spend on a property will be determined by your salary.

Most mortgage providers will lend up to 4.5 times the amount you earn.

So, if you have a salary of £50,000 a year, you’ll be able to borrow a mortgage of up to £225,000 if you have a deposit saved. 

How much can I borrow for a mortgage?

2. Learn about stamp duty

When buying a new place, you'll need to know how much stamp duty you'll be paying.

Stamp duty is the tax you pay when you buy a home in England or Northern Ireland.  Scotland and Wales have their own systems.

Stamp duty works out as a percentage of the property you’re buying. The more expensive the property, the higher the percentage you’ll pay.

However, if you're buying your first home, the first £425,000 of any property that costs up to £625,000 is stamp duty-free.

For homes worth over £625,000, the discount does not apply.

Between £425,000 and £625,000 a rate of 5% will apply. But it will only apply to that slice of the price, rather than the full amount.

Property pricePercentage of stamp duty paid
£0 - £425,000 0%
£425,000 - £625,000 5%
£625,000+Normal stamp duty rates apply

Stamp duty calculator

How much stamp duty will you need to pay? Let our calculator do the maths. Here's how stamp duty works.

Find out more about first-time buyer stamp duty exemptions and if you'll qualify.

3. Discover what support is available with government schemes

If you need a bit of help stepping onto the property ladder, there are Government schemes in place designed to help you do just that.

If you can’t afford to buy an entire home right now, you can start off by buying a portion of one with the government's Shared Ownership scheme.

Shared Ownership allows you to purchase between 25% - 75% of a property, while paying rent for the remainder, which is usually owned by a housing association.

If you want to, you can then gradually increase your share of ownership in the property as time goes on.

Find out more about Shared Ownership.

The First Homes scheme launched in 2021 to help local first-time buyers and key workers onto the property ladder by offering new-build homes at a 30% - 50% discount. 

The reduced rates will apply to the homes forever, meaning that buyers on a low income will continue to benefit every time the property is sold.

The government has pledged a further 10,000 properties will be added to the First Homes scheme every year.

The First Homes scheme: half-price homes for first time buyers

Available to buyers of all types of homes, not just new-builds, the Mortgage Guarantee Scheme means you only have to save up a 5% deposit.

Launched in 2021, the scheme is designed to help would-be homeowners step onto - or climb up - the property ladder.

Interested? The scheme has been extended for a year and is open to new applications until 31 December, 2023.

What is the mortgage guarantee scheme?

Lastly, Deposit Unlock is a scheme launched by the house-building industry to enable you to buy a new-build home with just a 5% deposit.

When you buy your home, the building developer pays a percentage of the purchase price into an insurance policy for your mortgage provider.

That insurance policy in turn reduces the risk of lending for your mortgage provider, as it will cover any potential losses for them if you were to default on your mortgage. 

The insurance also enables you to benefit from a lower interest rate than you would normally get if you were borrowing 95% of your property’s value.

Find out more about Deposit Unlock

Ready to find your dream home?

Search more than half a million properties for sale, from brand new homes to period homes.

4. Save for a deposit

You'll need to save a minimum deposit of 5% of the total value of the property you wish to buy.

Top tips on how to save for a deposit.

The government's Mortgage Guarantee Scheme means 95% mortgages are now widely available from major banks and building societies, meaning you don’t have to save up such a big deposit to buy your own home.

Find out more about the mortgage guarantee scheme.

There are also other costs to factor in when buying a home, such as surveys, mortgage arrangement costs, stamp duty and solicitor's fees too.

Here's our guide to homebuying costs so you know what to expect

5. Get a mortgage agreed in principle

Once you’ve stashed away a deposit, it’s time to work out how much you can borrow.

Banks and building societies will lend up to 4 and 4.5 times your income. 

They mainly look at your salary to work this out. But they'll also take a look at your outgoings too, so make sure you get your debts and bank account in order in advance of applying.

Let's take a look at the different types of mortgages available.

5. Start looking for homes

We can help you find your next home by saving you time in your property search and showing you how to get ahead of the competition.

With our advanced filter tool, you can search for exactly what you're looking for, from properties with gardens or terraces to open-plan living spaces.

Let the search begin!

Here’s a guide to our handy tools to help you find your next home.

Not sure where to start looking?

Here's how to check out an area you might want to move in to.

And if you're looking for a first home with some scope to earn you a bit of cash later down the line, then you'll want to know how to spot a property with potential.

Once you start going to property viewings, remember there’s no such thing as a silly question. Not sure what to ask?

Read our top tips from estate agents about what to ask during viewings.

6. Make an offer

You’ve found your dream home. But how much should you pay for it? 

Deciding what offer to make on a property can be tricky. If you pitch your offer too low, you may miss out on the property.

But if you make it too high, you could be left wondering if you got the best deal possible.

A good place to start is with our house price tool. It offers a value estimate of almost every address in the UK and shows when a property was last sold and for how much.

Unsure of tactics and techniques to present yourself as the most attractive buyer?

Here's how to make the right offer to secure your new home.

7. Lock in your mortgage 

You can choose to get advice from an independent mortgage broker before you sign on the dotted line. 

Here's why it's worth using a broker when applying for a mortgage.

A small difference in interest rate can translate into thousands of pounds a year, so it's worth shopping around for the best deal for you.

Find the best mortgage deals with

You’ll usually need to pay a fee to lock in your mortgage. The mortgage offer can expire within a set period of time, usually six months, so don’t do this too early.

Find out more about mortgages and your options.

8. Line up a solicitor

Your offer has been accepted on the home you wanted. The next job is usually to instruct a solicitor or conveyancer to help you with the purchase.

Your solicitor or conveyancer will carry out all the legal work involved with buying a home on your behalf.

How does a solicitor help you to buy a house?

Remember, the sale isn’t legally binding until the contracts are exchanged.

What's the difference between exchange and completion?

Looking for a conveyancer?

We've partnered with Yourkeys to bring you their range of professionals who’ll meet all your needs.

9. Commission a survey

To ensure the home you're planning to buy is in good shape, you'll need to arrange a property survey.

A survey is basically a health check on a property. If it reveals any problems, it puts you in a position to ask the seller to fix them before you proceed with the purchase.

Now, there are several options when it comes to surveys, and they offer different levels of detail. 

What type of survey do I need?

10. Organise searches

One of the first things your solicitor will get cracking with is the property searches.

They'll look into local planning proposals, flood risks, water supply and sewage connections to your new home, among other things.

Searches are important, they designed to check if any future or historical problems might affect the value of the home you're buying.

What searches are done when buying a house?

11. Buy buildings insurance

You'll need to have buildings insurance in place before you can exchange contracts on your new home.

If you haven’t arranged this insurance cover by the time the contracts are exchanged, your mortgage could fall through.

Here’s our complete guide to home insurance, so you can make the best choice.

12. Exchange contracts

In the past, solicitors used to meet in person to hand over the contracts. Today, they confirm by telephone. 

You'll need to transfer a deposit of at least 10% of the purchase price to your solicitor before you can exchange. 

It might take a couple of days to arrange the transfer of funds with your bank, so be sure to set this up in time.

At the point of exchange, you'll also confirm the date on which the sale will be completed.

Congratulations! Your purchase is now legally binding and unlikely to fall through.

Find out more about exchange and the run-up to completion.

13. Start packing and book removals

This is an exciting time. But it can also be stressful. Where do you start? What’s the best way to get organised?

Don’t worry. We've got you covered with our moving home checklist.

And if you're planning to move your stuff yourself, it's worth taking a look at our DIY-moving tips.

Otherwise, be sure to get plenty of quotes from removal companies and book your chosen company well in advance.

Here’s how much you can expect to pay for removal services.

14. Complete on your new home

After exchange, you’ll get a completion statement. This is a final bill from your solicitor, which breaks down all costs that need to be paid before you can complete. 

These costs include stamp duty, legal fees and the balance of the mortgage.

You’ll need to sign the transfer deed confirming you’re taking ownership of the property in the presence of a witness. Your solicitor will then send it to your seller’s solicitor.

Your solicitor will request the mortgage balance from your lender and transfer it to your seller’s solicitor, along with all the other outstanding costs outlined in the completion statement. 

Here’s a reminder of the buying costs involved.

Your solicitor will then receive the title deeds for the property. The home is yours! 

15. Move in!

Don’t forget to pose for that stepping-over-the-threshold pic to look back on in future years. 

When you're finally surveying your new home from the sofa, you may have a wishlist of jobs to be getting on with.

Here are a few quick and easy ways to make your place feel like home.

And finally, once you've had time to sit down for a cuppa, it's time to think about setting up all of the utilities for your new pad.

Here are the bills you need to pay and what to do with them now you own a home.

Got another question about the buying process?

You'll find extensive articles covering all aspects of the homebuying process in our Buying a Home guide.

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.