Buying a house – like getting married or having your first baby – is one of live’s seminal moments. This could be your first step onto the housing ladder, away from a lifetime of flat shares or living with mum and dad (and either way, that’s one shared fridge too many). It could be the step up from your current semi to that detached family home you’ve always dreamed of. Or, perhaps the children have left the nest and you’re downsizing for a cosy retirement and great big wad of cash.

But, as with of live’s big moments, buying a house is every bit as difficult and stressful as it is important. And it can be a long process. Our informal research on where’s good to live in the UK often begins months, and even years, before we actually make up our mind to buy somewhere. And then we’ve got the familiar hurdles: offering on a property, getting a mortgage approved, homebuyers surveys and conveyancing, to name a few. Oh, and for those already on the housing ladder, there’s the little matter of selling your existing house.

To be your companion and guide throughout the process of buying a house, from the first pangs of wanting to own a house to sitting down comfortably in your new living room, buzzmove has compiled this handy guide. We hope you find it useful!

1. Researching Where You Want to Live

This first part of buying a house is the easiest part, and it’s also a movable feast. Unless you’re personal circumstances dictate otherwise, you can normally take your time during the research phase. And, if you can, it’s important that you do, because your new residence is not just for Christmas, it’s for the long term and maybe even life.

You probably have an idea, geographically speaking, where you want to live. Perhaps you’re drawn by the career opportunities available in the capital, so you’re looking for places to live in London. Perhaps you want to swap the grind of the city for a life in the country, in which case you should check out these buzzmove regional guides (we’ve got one for every region of the UK, looking at regional geography, local history and lore, career opportunities and top towns).

If you’re moving to a different region or city, we recommend spending a bit of time there first. It’s amazing how much you can learn about the spirit of a place, even just in the course of a long weekend. Ask yourself questions like: can I imagine myself doing this commute every Monday to Friday? Or, do I see myself going into this centre of town at the weekend?

If you’ve spent an exploratory long weekend somewhere and you leave with plenty of stuff undone that you wanted to do, that’s usually a good sign. Of course, doing our research isn’t always this easy. Like if you’re moving abroad, for example. It’s easier to pop to Bristol on the weekend than Baghdad. In these cases, you should probably narrow down your field of options before doing a couple of very well planned research trips. For some inspiration, be sure to check out our buzzmove guide to moving abroad.

2. Housing Market Jargon Buster

Multitudes of houses are bought and sold every day. The market today is not the same market as yesterday – nor will it be the same tomorrow. But, for all this flux, some things never change: the often impenetrable housing-market and estate-agent jargon. To help you through the morass, we’re compiling a comprehensive house-buying jargon buster. So stay tuned!

3. Applying for a Mortgage

If you’re lucky enough to be a cash buyer, then you can skip this part. But the truth of the matter is: most people buying property in the UK need a mortgage.

The way this works is that a bank or building society lends you the money to buy a property now, and then you pay it back in instalments over an extended period (often 25 years). What makes this different from a standard loan is that the property you’re buying acts as a security for the money you’ve been lent. This means that, if for whatever reason you are unable to pay, your lender is able to repossess and sell your house – recouping their money this way instead.

You’ll be glad to know that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, things never get this drastic. However, it does have a few implications you need to be aware of. If there’s any clear factor that may affect the future value of the property, your mortgage application can be rejected – totally irrespective of your own credit history and solvency. Here are a few things to look out for:

Wooden Properties

Properties made of stone last for hundreds of years. The same cannot be said if you’re buying a house made of wood (and for other “alternative” materials like corrugated iron). If you’re buying a wooden property, there’s a risk that the value of the building itself declines considerably over the course of the mortgage. This means that the property is no longer an effective long-term security on the mortgage lender’s loan, which makes them less likely to lend to you. It means an extra risk for them, which they may not be willing to take.

Properties with Short Leases

There are two types of property ownership in the United Kingdom, freehold properties and leasehold properties. There’s little issue in principle with a property being freehold (where the buyer owns the land the property is built on), but sometimes leaseholds (where that land is leased from a landowner) can pose problems if the lease has less than 80 years to run. But this isn’t a common problem, as many leases run for hundreds (or even thousands!) or years.

Missing Title Deeds

When you buy a property, you have to register your title to the property with the Land Registry. This normally goes off without a hitch but can be problematic if the sellers have lost their deeds and aren’t already registered with the Land Registry. This isn’t a necessarily a deal breaker. The sellers can apply for a possessory title, which in time you can upgrade to an absolute title. However, until you get this, the fact that you don’t have full title may affect the resale value of the property – and this may put mortgage providers off lending on it.

The Mortgage Valuation

As part of your mortgage application, your lender will professionally value the property you want to buy. The aim of this valuation is to satisfy the lender that your desired property is indeed worth the amount you’re borrowing. And if there’s a large discrepancy between what you’re paying for the property and what your lender values it at, you should think carefully – because their figure is likely to be closer to its actual resale price than yours, when you come to sell it.

If the property is valued below your asking price, you can always go back to the seller or estate agent and offer a lower price. Equally, you are free to dispute the lender’s valuation by providing evidence of similar properties in the area selling for the same price or higher.

The Conveyancing Searches

These searches, sometimes called property searches, are a routine part of the conveyancing process. Conveyancing ties up all the various legal loose ends that come with exchanging property. After all, if there are any undisclosed liabilities relating to the property, you (and your lender) want to discover these before you move in, not after. The four commonest conveyancing searches are the Local Authority Search (LAS), Water and Drainage Searches, Environmental Search and Chancel Repair Search.

Think of the property searches as the “speak now or forever hold your peace” moment except for your house purchase rather than your wedding. It may turn out that your dream house has a major skeleton in the cupboard, such as chancel-repair liability for instance, which is where you are liable for the maintenance of a local church. While cases of enforcement are rare, lenders will perceive chancel repairs as an unnecessary risk and something that could undermine the property’s resale value.


4. Putting in an Offer

Once you’ve got a mortgage up your sleeve and you’ve identified the home of your dreams, it’s time to go in and make that offer.

This is a major moment, of course, but remember that there’s still much more to do. And rejection is perfectly normal; in fact, it’s not uncommon to have to make multiple offers on different properties just to get one accepted. This is particularly the case in sellers’ markets, or in sought after areas, where sellers will find ways to pit potential buyers against one another. An example of this is the sealed-bid auction, where prospective buyers simply submit their best price.

For some sealed-bidding tactics, check out our recent piece on all you need to know as a buyer. And don’t forget: rejection is better than over-committing yourself financially.

Sealed Bids – What to Know as a Buyer

At this stage, you’re bound to have a “mortgage in principle”. But your lender will want to check, for their part, that the value of the property you’re buying is in line with what they’re lending you; it is, after all, supposed to act as a security for the loan they’re giving you. And they will do this via a Mortgage Valuation Survey.

And it’s not just your lender who should be thinking about surveys. You’re about to make perhaps the biggest investment of your life, so it’ll pay to find out a little bit more about the property you’re buying.

5. It’s Time For Your Homebuyer Survey

So you’ve done your research and identified what looks like your dream home. But there’s a limit to how much you can really learn about it from a house viewing and talking to your estate agent. This is where the homebuyer survey comes in, giving you vital about what’s going on beneath your prospective new home’s glossy exterior.

This is designed to give you the peace of mind you need to proceed down the path of purchase. You wouldn’t buy a new laptop based on the glossy case – you would reassure yourself that the spec delivers what you need. And it’s the same with a house. The 3-figure sum you need for a survey is a drop in the ocean compared to the massive investment that is buying a house.

To conduct a homebuyer survey, you will need a chartered surveyor, so the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is a good place to start. Depending on your needs, RICS homebuyer surveys come in three levels of thoroughness:

Level 1: RICS Condition Report

The RICS Condition Report uses a traffic light system to identify any defects, but it is very limited beyond that, it does not include advice or recommendations for repairs or the likely cost of the repairs. It also does not cover less serious or minor defects that may become an issue in the future. The condition report typically costs between £100-250, depending on number of factors including property size.

Level 2: Homebuyers Report 

HomeBuyers Report is a more detailed survey and the most popular option according to RICS. It’s a non-intrusive survey (the surveyor will not look behind furniture for example, or lift up floorboards) but it should still reveal any obvious rot or subsidence.

There are two options in this category – you can choose to have a survey with or without a valuation. You can also opt instead for a Home Condition Survey, offered not by RICS but by the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).

Level 3: RICS Full Structural Survey (Building Survey)

A Building or Full Structural survey is the most comprehensive survey and is suitable for all residential properties, using a 1, 2, 3 condition rating system to ensure you can identify the most serious issues. This is mainly targeted at larger or older properties, or if you are planning any major works. It should also include the surveyor’s opinion on any potential hidden defects, as well as potential repair options.

New-Build Snagging Survey

Another survey you may hear about is the New-Build Snagging Survey. This is an independent inspection to look for any issues with a new-build property. Costs usually starts from £300 depending on property size.


6. It’s Going Ahead: Time for Conveyancing

Conveyancing refers to the legal transfer of a property from one owner to another. This process encompasses all legal and administrative work that comes with buying a house. You can do your own conveyancing but, as this is quite a technical area, most home movers opt to enlist a professional surveyor.

The process begins as soon as you’ve put in an offer on a property and includes the conveyancing searches, the exchange of contracts, the registering of title and the payment of stamp duty. For full details on the end-to-end process, check out our dedicated guide:

The buzzmove Guide to Conveyancing

7. Paying Stamp Duty

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) is a tax on the transfer of property payable within 30 days of your completion date (this is when your ownership over your new property becomes legally binding). SDLT concludes the conveyancing, representing the final legal hurdle you have to overcome. The amount owed has the potential to be hefty, and recent changes to SDLT regulation have bedevilled the issue. For a comprehensive and up-to-date overview, check out our recent stamp duty guide:

All You Need to Know about Stamp Duty (SDLT)

8. Let’s not Forget: Selling Your Existing House!

In order to make good on your offer and complete your move, you of course need to have a buyer lined up for your own home. As the buyer for your home in turn needs someone to move into their old home, we quickly develop what’s known as a moving chain. Once a chain gets beyond a certain length, it can start to make life difficult – the more parties there are in the chain, the more scope there is for problems to arise, and these hold up the entire chain.

This is why many home movers choose to sell their own property first and move into rented accommodation on a short-term basis – so that they only have to worry about getting their offer on a property accepted and not about courting buyers of their own at the same time.


9. Booking Your Removals Company


Looking to move? Compare the best house removal companies using buzzmove. Get up to 6 free quotes from trusted movers.

10. Preparing for Moving Day


And there we have it! Assuming you’ve constituted a moving home survival kit separate from your other packing, you can sit down on the floor, lean back against one of the walls in your new home and crack open some bubbly. It’s been a journey but, as people who have moved tens of thousands of people in our time, we can assure you that it’s definitely worth it.