Buying a home

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

A quick guide to moving home safely during this period has been created to help you understand what you, and anyone involved in your move, will need to do to provide a safe environment for everyone.

This includes:

  • the estate or letting agent
  • the property lawyer
  • the photographer
  • the energy assessor
  • the valuer or surveyor
  • the removal company who move you
  • someone helping you organise your mortgage

This guidance is aligned with the UK government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy and advice on home moving during the COVID-19 outbreak.

View the guidance on safe home moving (PDF 396 KB)

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.CQS logo

Solicitors 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.

If the sale is successful, you'll need to pay other expenses such as:

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.

Property searches

As part of the conveyancing process, your solicitor will make some enquiries to local authorities and other parties about the property you’re buying. These enquiries are commonly known as property searches.

Mortgage lenders will insist on some searches being carried out, typically:

Lenders may also request other searches, sometimes depending on the location of the property.

Property searches are not mandatory if you’re buying without a mortgage. But these searches are usually carried out so you can find out as much as possible about the property before you buy it.

HM Land Registry search

Your solicitor will need to prove that the seller is the legal owner of the property you’re buying.

They do this by checking with HM Land Registry, which registers the ownership of land and property in England and Wales.

Local authority searches

A local authority search gives detailed information about the property and its surrounding area. It’s made up of two types of search:

  • Local Land Charges
  • enquiries of the local authority

The local authority will search its records for data affecting the property. It’ll only provide information and will not carry out a physical inspection.

Local land charges search

Your solicitor will request a search of the Local Land Charges Register. Each local authority in England and Wales keeps a register.

The search will reveal any restrictions or charges affecting your property, such as:

  • planning decisions
  • tree preservation orders
  • any money owed to the local authority by previous owners

Enquiries of the local authority search

This search will ask for specific information on general issues affecting the property, such as:

  • proposed major new roads
  • local planning decisions
  • whether building regulation consent has been granted
  • environmental issues, such as contaminated land 

Environmental search

An environmental search will establish whether your property is:

Some lenders insist on an environmental search before they will offer a mortgage, especially if the property’s in an area where industry has existed.

Water and drainage search

This will give information on the sewer connections and water supply to the property. The CON29DW is the official drainage and water search.

Surveys

You should ask a specialist surveyor to carry out a survey of the property you’re buying 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 of 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.