How long does it take to buy a house first time buyer?

Buying a house for the first time is an exciting milestone, but it can also be a complex and time-consuming process. Understanding the steps involved and the typical timeline can help first-time buyers navigate the process more effectively. This comprehensive guide will explore each stage of buying a house in the UK, from initial preparations to moving in, with an emphasis on the specific considerations and challenges that first-time buyers might face.

1. Initial Preparations

1.1. Saving for a Deposit

The first step in buying a house is saving for a deposit. The amount required typically ranges from 5% to 20% of the property’s value. For example, on a £200,000 house, a 10% deposit would be £20,000. This stage can take several years, depending on your savings rate and financial situation.

1.2. Understanding Your Budget

Determine how much you can afford to borrow by assessing your income, expenses, and credit score. Use online mortgage calculators to get an estimate of your borrowing capacity. This will help you understand the price range you should be looking at.

1.3. Mortgage Agreement in Principle (AIP)

Before you start viewing properties, it’s wise to obtain a Mortgage Agreement in Principle (AIP) from a lender. This document indicates how much the lender is willing to lend you based on your financial situation. Having an AIP shows sellers that you are a serious buyer and can expedite the process once you find a property you like.

2. Finding a Property

2.1. Researching the Market

Begin by researching the property market in the areas where you’d like to live. Consider factors such as proximity to work, schools, amenities, and public transport. Use property websites, estate agents, and local newspapers to find available properties.

2.2. Viewing Properties

Once you have a clear idea of what you want, start viewing properties. This stage can take several weeks to several months, depending on how specific your requirements are and the availability of suitable homes.

2.3. Making an Offer

When you find a property you like, make an offer through the estate agent. The offer can be at the asking price or lower, depending on the market conditions and your assessment of the property’s value. Negotiations may follow until both parties agree on a price.

3. Offer Accepted: What Happens Next?

3.1. Instructing a Solicitor or Conveyancer

After your offer is accepted, you need to instruct a solicitor or licensed conveyancer to handle the legal aspects of the purchase. They will:

  • Conduct property searches
  • Review contracts
  • Manage the transfer of ownership

3.2. Full Mortgage Application

Submit a full mortgage application to your chosen lender. This involves providing detailed financial information and documentation. The lender will also conduct a valuation survey to ensure the property is worth the amount you’re borrowing.

3.3. Property Searches and Enquiries

Your solicitor will carry out several searches to uncover any potential issues with the property. These typically include:

  • Local authority searches
  • Environmental searches
  • Water and drainage searches

Searches can take 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the local authority’s efficiency.

4. Survey and Valuation

4.1. Lender’s Valuation Survey

The lender will arrange for a valuation survey to ensure the property is worth the mortgage amount. This typically takes about a week.

4.2. Homebuyer’s Survey or Building Survey

It’s advisable to commission a more detailed survey to assess the property’s condition. Options include:

  • Homebuyer’s Report: Suitable for standard properties in reasonable condition.
  • Building Survey: Recommended for older or non-standard properties, providing a detailed analysis of the property’s condition.

Arranging and receiving a survey report can take 1 to 2 weeks.

5. Mortgage Offer and Finalising Details

5.1. Receiving the Mortgage Offer

Once the lender is satisfied with the valuation and your financial details, they will issue a formal mortgage offer. Review this with your solicitor to ensure all terms are acceptable.

5.2. Final Contract Review

Your solicitor will review the final contract and resolve any outstanding queries. Once everything is satisfactory, you can proceed to exchange contracts.

6. Exchanging Contracts

6.1. Preparing for Exchange

Before exchanging contracts, ensure you have:

  • Arranged buildings insurance for the property
  • Reviewed and signed the contract

6.2. Exchange of Contracts

This is the point at which the sale becomes legally binding. You and the seller sign and exchange identical contracts, and you pay a deposit (typically 10% of the purchase price). The exchange of contracts usually occurs 6 to 8 weeks after the offer is accepted.

7. Completion

7.1. Preparing for Completion

Between exchange and completion, you’ll finalize preparations for moving. This includes:

  • Arranging for the transfer of the remaining funds
  • Organizing moving services

7.2. Completion Day

On completion day, the remaining purchase money is transferred to the seller’s solicitor, and you receive the keys to your new home. Completion typically takes place 1 to 2 weeks after the exchange of contracts.

8. Post-Completion

8.1. Registering Ownership

Your solicitor will register your ownership with the Land Registry and pay any Stamp Duty Land Tax due. This process can take a few weeks but does not delay moving into your new home.

8.2. Moving In

Move into your new home and settle in. Ensure all utility accounts are transferred to your name and set up any necessary services.

9. Potential Delays and How to Mitigate Them

9.1. Common Causes of Delays

Several factors can cause delays in the house-buying process, including:

  • Delays in mortgage approval due to financial discrepancies or issues with the property valuation.
  • Slow responses from solicitors or local authorities during the search and enquiry process.
  • Complications uncovered during the survey, such as structural issues or legal problems with the property title.

9.2. Tips to Speed Up the Process

To help ensure a smoother and faster transaction:

  • Choose a proactive and communicative solicitor.
  • Stay on top of paperwork and respond promptly to any requests for information.
  • Maintain regular communication with your mortgage broker and lender.
  • Be prepared for potential issues and have contingency plans in place.

10. Timeline Summary

1. Initial Preparations and Viewings: 1-6 months

  • Saving for a deposit
  • Obtaining a Mortgage Agreement in Principle
  • Researching the market and viewing properties

2. Making an Offer and Mortgage Application: 2-4 weeks

  • Making an offer
  • Instructing a solicitor
  • Submitting a full mortgage application

3. Legal Processes and Searches: 2-3 weeks

  • Conducting property searches
  • Reviewing contracts

4. Surveys and Valuation: 1-2 weeks

  • Lender’s valuation survey
  • Homebuyer’s survey or building survey

5. Mortgage Offer and Finalising Details: 2-4 weeks

  • Receiving the mortgage offer
  • Final contract review

6. Exchanging Contracts: 1 week

  • Preparing for exchange
  • Exchange of contracts

7. Completion: 1-2 weeks

  • Preparing for completion
  • Completion day

Total Estimated Time: 8-12 weeks (from offer acceptance to completion)


The journey from deciding to buy a house to moving into your new home can be lengthy and complex, particularly for first-time buyers. However, understanding each step and the typical timelines involved can help manage expectations and reduce stress. While the entire process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, the period from having an offer accepted to completing the purchase is generally around 8 to 12 weeks.

Key factors that contribute to a smoother and more expedited transaction include having your finances in order, choosing a reputable solicitor, and being proactive in managing the process. By staying informed and prepared, first-time buyers can navigate the house-buying process more confidently and efficiently, ultimately achieving the goal of homeownership.

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