You are here:
  1. Home
  2. For the public
  3. Common legal issues
  4. Buying a home

Buying a home

  • Find a solicitor

    Search the official database of professionals

    Learn more about Find a Solicitor >

    Buying a home is an exciting time but it can be overwhelming, especially if you're a first-time buyer.

    Before you start to look for your new home, read the government’s how to buy a home guide.

    What to do first

    Apply for a mortgage

    Unless you’re a cash buyer, you’ll need to apply for a mortgage.

    Ask your mortgage lender for a “decision in principle” before you decide on your budget. This is a written statement estimating how much you’ll be able to borrow.

    Read the government’s guidance on mortgages

    Find a solicitor

    Find a solicitor using our free website

    Use the quick search option "Houses, property and neighbours" to find your nearest solicitor.

    Conveyancing Quality Scheme logoSolicitors whose firms are part of our Conveyancing Quality Scheme meet our high standards of technical expertise and client service.

    Select the option “Accredited specialists only” on Find a Solicitor and look out for the Conveyancing Quality Scheme logo.

    Talk to your solicitor

    Talk to your solicitor as early as possible in the process.

    A solicitor will act in your best interests and protect you if anything goes wrong. It's not worth taking risks – this may be the most expensive purchase you ever make.

    Your solicitor will:

    • explain how the home-buying process works
    • handle the process on your behalf
    • give advice at every stage
    • communicate with the seller’s solicitor
    • resolve any legal issues

    Find out more about using a solicitor

    Costs

    The cost will vary between solicitors. Check with a few solicitors to compare their costs. You might want to think about:

    • the services they offer
    • if the solicitor is local to you
    • their opening hours
    • if they can update you online or by text

    You should check what costs you’ll have to pay if the sale falls through. Some solicitors charge a fee even if the sale does not go through.

    Find out more about costs

    Information to give your solicitor

    Your solicitor will ask you for information including:

    • your identity documents
    • the address and price of the property
    • when you want to move into the property
    • how you plan to pay

    They’ll also need to know if:

    • you've applied for a mortgage
    • you want to buy leasehold property
    • you plan to carry out building work
    • you're buying with someone else
    • you're selling a home
    • you own any other residential properties

    Buying a leasehold home

    When you buy leasehold, you agree to lease the property from the freeholder. The lease allows you to live in and use the property for many years.

    You’re likely to have the right to extend the lease for a fee after you’ve lived there for a few years.

    If you’re thinking of buying a leasehold home, such as a flat, you should read the government’s how to lease guide.

    Sometimes when you buy a flat, you buy a share of the freehold as well. If you buy a leasehold flat, you may be able to buy a share of the freehold after you move in, but you cannot rely on this.

    Buying a new build home

    There are some extra things to consider if you’re thinking of buying a new build home, especially if you choose a property that’s still being built.

    You may need to pay additional costs (such as reservation fees) and the developer may ask you to exchange contracts shortly after you reserve a home.

    If the home you want to buy is being built, you may want to get a snagging survey to find out if there are any defects or problems that could delay you from moving in.

    Buying a home with someone else

    If you’re thinking of buying a home with someone you’re not married to, it's a good idea to get:

    • a declaration of trust setting out your share of the property
    • a cohabitation agreement

    These are legal documents that set out arrangements for your home while you’re living together and if you split up, become ill or die.

    Talk to your solicitor to find out more.

    Find out more about cohabitation agreements

    Making an offer

    Once you feel confident that you’ve found your new home, make a verbal offer to the seller’s estate agent.

    Your offer is not legally binding – you can renegotiate or pull out of the sale at any point before exchange of contracts.

    If the seller accepts your offer, you’ll need to let the seller’s estate agent know who your solicitor is.

    Read the government’s guidance on making an offer

    Mortgages

    Once your offer has been accepted, you’ll need a mortgage offer from your lender.

    Your mortgage lender will need an independent valuation of the property first. They’ll appoint someone to value the property, but you’ll have to pay the costs.

    Once you have a mortgage offer, you should read the offer letter and conditions carefully. Your solicitor can explain these to you if there’s anything you do not understand.

    Reservation agreements

    You may want your solicitor to draw up a reservation agreement with the seller’s solicitor. This is an optional step to demonstrate your commitment to the sale.

    You should only sign an agreement if you intend to go through with the sale. If the seller changes their mind before exchanging contracts, they’ll have to pay you compensation.

    You do not have to go through with the sale, but you may have to pay them compensation if you change your mind.

    Searches and surveys

    Your solicitor will arrange searches to make sure you know as much as possible about your new home before exchange of contracts. They’ll identify issues such as:

    • legal disputes
    • planning constraints
    • flooding
    • mining
    • contaminated land

    If there are any legal problems, your solicitor will help to resolve them.

    You should ask a specialist surveyor to carry out a survey and highlight any problems, such as structural issues or damp. You can use the Find a Surveyor website.

    If any building work is needed, you may want to renegotiate the price.

    Exchange of contracts

    Once you and the seller have agreed to go ahead with the sale, you’ll both sign the contracts. Your solicitor will exchange the contract you have signed for the contract the seller has signed with the seller’s solicitor.

    Your solicitor will:

    • exchange the signed contracts with the seller’s solicitor
    • transfer your deposit to the seller

    Before exchanging contracts, you and the seller can decide not to go through with the sale.

    After exchanging contracts, the agreement is legally binding. You could lose your deposit and have to pay other legal costs if you pull out of the sale.

    Completion

    Completion takes place when your solicitor transfers the rest if the purchase money to the seller. Your solicitor will:

    • arrange to pay any stamp duty land tax
    • pay other fees on your behalf
    • help you to prepare the tax return
    • register you as the owner at Land Registry

    Once the sale has been completed, you can get the keys and move into your new home.