Being methodical and having a handy checklist can make all the difference when you're buying a new home.
Decided that this is the year to buy a new place? It's a great goal to have set yourself, but there's some work involved in the process of buying a house to make it actually happen.
Here we guide you through the whole journey from getting your finances in shape to having your offer accepted, and appointing a solicitor through to exchange and completion.
Ready to get started? Then here we go.
1. Get your finances in place
While you may be champing at the bit to begin house-hunting, it's worth giving some thought to your finances first to find out how much you might be able to stretch to.
You can do this by speaking to a bank or building society, although you might be better off seeking help from an independent mortgage broker who can guide you through the complex mortgage maze.
It's well worth getting a 'mortgage in principle' in place. This is essentially a letter from a mortgage lender setting out how much they would be willing to lend, based on an initial assessment of your circumstances.
This is not binding, but does give a helpful indication of the amount you can borrow. This will help you get a better idea of what price bracket to look at when house-hunting – and will mean estate agents take you more seriously.
2. Work out what you can afford and where
Once you've got an idea of how much you can borrow, you can start thinking about the area you would like to live in and the kind of property you can afford.
When deciding where to live, think about things such as transport links and how close you are to shops, restaurants, pubs, schools and other local amenities.
Also give some thought to the type of home you want to buy. While budget is likely to be your biggest restriction, think about the number of bedrooms, parking, outside space, amount of storage and so on.
Search for properties on Zoopla's 'for sale' section. You can search by area, property type (house or flat), number of bedrooms as well as budget, and you can also use the 'Advanced Search' option to refine your hunt even more.
For example, you could choose to select just new-builds or auction properties. You can even type in keywords that will scour the listings for specific features, such as a loft conversion or home office.
3. Go house-hunting
This is the fun bit. Having got to this stage in proceedings, now is the time to start viewing properties. While some buyers fall in love with the first place they see, most have to visit a lot more properties to find their dream home.
When you're house-hunting, set up a property alert on Zoopla so you're notified as soon as a property meeting your requirements hits the market.
It's also worth putting time and effort into getting to know the local estate agents, as this might give you the edge on finding out when new properties come on to the market.
Once you've seen a decent number of homes, you will get a better idea of what your budget will get you. You can then work out whether you need to widen your search a little – or compromise on some of the things on your wishlist to find homes that fall within your budget.
4. Do some research before putting in an offer
Once you've found a property you like, see if you can go back for a second – or third – viewing, ideally taking a friend or family member along who can give an unbiased opinion.
Do a little detective work at the property. Turn all the taps and lights on and off, ask if the heating can be switched on, check the boiler is in good nick, lift rugs and look behind pictures, and scour for any signs of damp.
Try and visit the area a few times as well – ideally at different times of day, and on different days of the week.
See if the property is near a noisy road, and how long it takes to walk to the local shops or bus station.
Check out if there is space outside to park, and which way the property faces (ideally south, to get the sun).
Get more tips at: What research do I need to do before buying a home?
Walk around the streets and go into the local shops and cafes and talk to people about what it's actually like living there. You want honest answers to your questions.
Find out more at: 7 things you need to love in the search for your ideal home
5. Get your offer accepted
When you're happy you've found the property you want to buy, you can put in an offer.
Whether you put in a low offer will depend on a number of things, such as whether you feel the property is overpriced, if you don't think there's much competition, or how far your budget will stretch.
It's then up to the seller to decide whether to accept the offer you've submitted through the estate agent.
Finding out your offer has been accepted on the property you've fallen in love with definitely warrants a little celebration. But don't get too carried away, as this is also the point at which the hard work really begins.
Read more at: Tips for a smooth property transaction
6. Sort your mortgage application
Once you've had your offer accepted, you need to apply for a mortgage officially.
You can do this directly with the lender – or via your broker. It's also worth using a website such as Zoopla's partner uSwitch to compare available deals.
Whichever route you choose, be prepared for paperwork and for your bank statements to be gone through with a fine-tooth comb to check you can afford the loan you are trying to borrow.
Also, bear in mind that if it's been quite a while since you got your 'mortgage in principle,' it might be worth researching again, as another deal may now be more competitive – or better suited to your needs.
7. Appoint a conveyancer/solicitor
Once you've had your offer accepted and confirmed your mortgage, it's time to think about who you are going to choose as your conveyancer or solicitor to handle the legal side of things.
It's advisable to get at least three quotes and make sure you know exactly what is – and isn't – included, such as Land Registry fees, bank fees, postage and VAT.
It can be useful getting solicitor recommendations from family or friends. It's also worth checking reviews and recommendations online.
In addition, you could check out Zoopla's partner, MoveIt, to compare solicitors based on price, service and location.
It is the job of your conveyancer or solicitor to review all the legal documents and start the necessary searches, such as local authority, environmental and water and property.
Note that good conveyancing is critical to helping keep your house purchase on track.
Find out more at: What does a solicitor do?
8. Commission a survey
Once you've got your mortgage officially agreed, you need to think about commissioning a survey.
While there is no official requirement to get a survey carried out, it is highly advisable, as it will assess the condition of a property and highlight any major problems before you exchange contracts.
Don't fall into the trap of assuming a mortgage valuation is the same is a survey. It isn't.
A valuation is only for the mortgage lender's benefit, to check the property you are purchasing is worth at least the amount it’s lending on it before it approves your mortgage.
Read more at: What's the difference between a survey and a valuation?
As a buyer, it's well worth arranging your own survey so you will get a more detailed inspection of the property you're hoping to purchase.
There are three different types of survey to choose from: the Home Condition Report (the cheapest), the HomeBuyer Report (the mid-table version), and the Building Survey (the most expensive).
For more details about what each type of survey covers, and the costs involved, read: What survey do I need?
Be sure to make the right decision on the type of survey you choose. Remember, if the survey does show any major issues, you can go back to the seller to re-negotiate.
But if you cut corners, you could face some hefty unexpected costs further down the line when problems crop up in your new home.
9. Set out the provisional completion date
At this stage, you should be ready to set out a provisional completion date. This is the date you will actually move. You will need to agree this with your estate agent.
10. Organise removals
Once you've got a provisional move date in place, you can start thinking about removals. It's important to shop around for quotes from different removals firms.
As well as doing your own research online – and by asking friends and family for recommendations – check out Zoopla's partner, AnyVan, where you can get a quick quote based on factors such as your move date, distance, and the size of your current property.
Bear in mind that while it may be more convenient for you to move house at the weekend, the cost of removals might be higher. With this in mind, it's worth weighing up whether it's more cost-effective to move during the week.
Don't rush to book anything in for definite until your completion date is confirmed or you risk losing money.
But with your move date provisionally in the diary, it's time to get packing!
For more tips on making move day as painless as possible, read: 10 tips to ensure your removals run smoothly.
11. Exchange contracts
Once all the searches are complete, the legal work is finalised, and the mortgage is in place, it's time to exchange.
Exchange is the point at which both buyer and seller are legally bound to go ahead with the transaction on the terms agreed.
It is also the point at which you pay the deposit to the solicitor (this is usually 10% of the purchase price). If you pull out of the deal after this, you forfeit your deposit.
On completion day, your money is transferred to pay for your new home.
In addition, you need to pay any outstanding fees, such as stamp duty (based on the price of your property), and the cost of legal work.
13. Move in
Once you've completed, you can collect the keys to your new home and move in.
Congratulations – it's time to pop the prosecco!
If you'd like an even more straightforward planner to refer to, this one should come in handy:
1. Are you ready?
- Do you have a large enough deposit saved?
- Calculate how much you can afford to spend per month
- Find the best mortgage offer. Compare current deals at our partners Money
- Get an offer lined up from a lender
- Calculate other costs you'll have to cover
- Check out our definitive guides for first time buyers
2. Starting your search
- Draw up ‘would like' and ‘really need' lists
- Work out a ‘home triangle': budget, space and location
- Consider existing v new homes v buying at auction, or with a friend or family member
- Consider Help to Buy schemes
- Meet and register with estate agents
- Check out parking and storage
- Check running costs, such as council tax and utility bills. Use our handy tool for this.
- Check out crime rates, transport links and whether prices have risen or fallen in the area
- Consider extending your search if you can't find anything within your budget
- Ask to see the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property
- If buying leasehold, who's the freeholder and managing agent? How much are ground fees and service charges?
4. Making an offer
- Choose a solicitor
- Research prices paid for local properties and current home value trends
- Make an offer in writing
- Ask for the property to be taken off the market as soon as your offer is accepted
- Show proof that the lender will give you money, if you are taking out a mortgage
- Check the solicitor is making enquiries and getting title deed information
- Choose a surveyor and organise a survey
- Set the completion date
- Book a van or removals company
- Inform authorities such as utility companies, Electoral Roll, your employer and Inland Revenue of your new address
- Contact the council to suspend a parking bay for the removal van
- Get the mortgage deed for the solicitor to sign
- Sign contracts for exchange
- Pay the balance of the property's price
- Get the transfer document and title deeds
- Take out building and contents insurance
- Pay Stamp Duty, Land Registry and solicitor's fees
- Check your insurer covers you for any damage while moving
- Tell the removals company about narrow roads or unusual directions
- Pack, ensuring fragile items are well wrapped
- Label each box with a number or letter corresponding to its designated room
- Pack a ‘moving box' with essentials including tea, cleaning materials and a bottle of bubbly!
- Keep passports and other vital items with you
- Pack a bag for each person with a toothbrush and change of clothing
- Get someone to mind your pets (or make sure they're secure)
- Get the keys to the property
- Enjoy living in your new home!