Buying a home
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.
We've set out some helpful steps below:
- what to do first
- talk to your solicitor
- information to give your solicitor
- buying a leasehold home
- buying a new build home
- buying a home with someone else
- making an offer
- reservation agreements
- property searches
- exchange of contracts
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.
Find a solicitor
Use the quick search option "Houses, property and neighbours" to find your nearest solicitor.
Solicitors whose firms are part of our Conveyancing Quality Scheme meet our high standards of technical expertise and client service.
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
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:
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:
- have applied for a mortgage
- want to buy leasehold property
- plan to carry out building work
- are buying with someone else
- are selling a home
- own any other residential properties
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
An environmental search will establish whether your property is:
- built on or near contaminated land or water
- in a radon-contaminated area
- at risk of flooding
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.
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.
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 takes place when your solicitor transfers the purchase amount after deducting the deposit already paid to the seller’s solicitor.
You'll be the owner of the property, and can collect your keys (usually around late lunchtime) when:
- the Code for Completion has been used by the solicitors for both the seller and the buyer, and
- the money has been received by the seller’s solicitors
Your solicitor will usually:
- arrange to pay any stamp duty land tax (SDLT) to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) within 14 days of completion
- if the property you're buying is in Wales, then Land Transaction Tax (LTT) is payable to the Welsh Revenue Authority within 30 days of completion
- calculating SDLT and LTT can be complicated and, in some cases, it may be necessary to speak to a specialist tax law adviser or your accountant
- you should have established the amount of SDLT payable with your accountant or tax solicitor or conveyancing solicitor at an early stage in the process, and certainly before exchange of contracts
- if you're a first-time buyer you may be eligible for first-time buyers' relief where certain criteria are met, which could mean you pay no SDLT or a reduced amount of SDLT
- pay other remaining fees on your behalf, such as landlord’s notice costs
- make an application to register you as the owner and your mortgagee (that is, the bank or building society) as your lender at HM Land Registry
You should be aware that, as conveyancing solicitors are not necessarily SDLT specialists, you may incur extra costs during the transaction in obtaining tax advice from a specialist tax lawyer or tax adviser.
You'll usually need to prepare a tax return with the help of an accountant, tax adviser, specialist tax solicitor or your conveyancing solicitor.
Most lenders require that SDLT is paid by the solicitor on the transaction and, in any event, registration of the new owner and new lender cannot take place unless HMLR has got evidence that the tax return has been made to HMRC.
If you're also selling a property, you may need to tell HMRC and/or pay any capital gains tax due within 30 days of completion. However, there are exceptions to this. If you're a UK resident selling your main residence and you're able to satisfy the conditions for Private Residence Relief you will not be liable. Again, you may want or need to speak to a tax specialist about this.