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Process of buying a property in the UK

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Buying a second-hand property in the UK can be daunting due to complex procedures and a lengthy transaction period that can last several months.

The following is a step-by-step explanation of each key process involved in buying a property (applicable to the England region) to help you budget your time accordingly.

On average, the entire buying process takes about 12 weeks, but this can vary depending on different factors. It could take as little as 6 weeks or as long as 6 months.

Searching for a Desired Property

Time Needed: 3 to 12 months

When searching for a property, it’s important to understand your requirements, such as the need for parking space and a garden, the number of bedrooms required, and whether you prefer freehold or leasehold ownership. Additionally, consider how long you plan to live in the property. If you plan to start a family in the future, it’s advisable not to purchase a studio unit. Once you have identified your target property, you can search for suitable listings online or through real estate agents based on criteria like property type, location, and price. Make appointments to view the properties.

Applying for a Mortgage Loan

Time Needed: 2 to 4 weeks

While searching for a property, you can apply for a mortgage loan from a bank or building society, or you can use a mortgage broker to help you find the most suitable mortgage product, such as fixed-rate, variable-rate, or interest-only mortgages. In either case, they will inquire about your financial situation and deposit.

Once your mortgage loan is approved, you will receive an Agreement in Principle (AIP) certificate, which represents the amount of mortgage loan the bank or financial institution is willing to provide you. The displayed mortgage amount in the certificate is just an estimate of the “in-principle” loan amount. Most estate agents prefer buyers to have an AIP certificate ready when making an offer as it demonstrates that you have sufficient funds and are a serious buyer, making the seller more willing to proceed with the sale. An AIP certificate typically remains valid for 90 days. Note that if you are purchasing a property off-plan, you can only apply for a mortgage within the six months prior to completion, so the certificate is more suitable for existing or near-completion properties.

Making an Offer

Time Needed: 1 week

Once you have found a desired property and have an AIP certificate, you can consider making an offer. Simply contact the seller’s estate agent via phone or email and state your offer for the property. If your offer is lower than the asking price, you can provide reasons such as identifying maintenance issues like water seepage or aging water heaters during the property viewing. You can also mention your personal advantages, such as being a cash buyer or a first-time homeowner. When necessary, you can even play the emotional card by expressing your fondness for the property and your desire to build a home and future there, showing your sincerity.

The estate agent must communicate each offer to the seller, and a response is typically received within 24 to 48 hours. If the offer is accepted, you can request the agent to take the property off the market immediately. If there is a counteroffer, you will need to negotiate back and forth within your budget’s maximum price.

Is the buying process faster for first-time buyers?

First-time buyers generally experience a faster buying process because they don’t have a property to sell. This means they can proceed with the purchase without having to find buyers for their own property, making the exchange of contracts, completion, and moving dates more flexible. However, the timeline still depends on the “property chain.” The more people involved in the chain, the longer the buying process will take, even for first-time buyers.

Contacting a Solicitor

Time Needed: 6 weeks to 3 months

Once your offer is accepted, the next step is to appoint a conveyancer or conveyancing solicitor to handle the legal procedures of the purchase. You can find a solicitor yourself or use online platforms to compare quotes while considering factors like the firm’s size and client reviews. Some solicitors offer a “no completion, no fee” service, meaning you can avoid losing solicitor fees if the purchase process is terminated.

Your solicitor is also required to conduct identity checks in accordance with Anti-Money Laundering Regulations, and the necessary documents include proof of identity, address, and funds. If you are applying for a mortgage loan to purchase the property, you need to provide your lender with the solicitor’s information. Additionally, you need to provide the estate agent with the solicitor’s information so they can send the Memorandum of Sale to all relevant parties.

This step can be the most time-consuming in the buying process. Ideally, the transfer of ownership for a freehold property can take around 6 weeks. Since the owner of a freehold property owns both the property and the land it sits on, the transfer is usually more straightforward compared to leasehold properties.

Leasehold properties typically require more time, with a transfer period of about 8 to 10 weeks. In reality, it often takes longer because the land of leasehold properties is owned by someone other than the seller. The more parties involved, the longer the process takes.

Property Survey

Time Needed: 1 week

Before purchasing a property, it is essential to engage a surveyor or inspection company to assess the property’s condition and identify any structural issues. Property surveys can be divided into three types: Condition Report, Homebuyer Report, and Building Survey, each varying in the level of detail and inspection coverage.

RICS Condition Report
(survey level one)
This is the most basic survey, typically suitable for relatively new properties. It covers the general condition of the property’s main building and any associated structures, as well as the condition of utilities like water, electricity, gas supply, and drainage.
RICS HomeBuyer Report/ HomeBuyer Survey
(Survey only – survey level two)
This report provides a more comprehensive assessment than the Condition Report. It identifies any structural issues such as subsidence or dampness and provides maintenance recommendations.
RICS HomeBuyer Report/ Homebuyer Survey
(Survey and Valuation – survey level two)
It may also include a valuation, estimating the market value and reinstatement cost of the property.
RICS Building Survey
(survey level three)
This survey offers a thorough inspection and analysis of the property’s structure and condition. It highlights any significant defects, potential problems, and their direct and potential implications. The surveyor provides repair recommendations and estimated costs.
Home Condition Survey
(offered by the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA) rather than RICS
New-build Snagging Report

Signing the Formal Sales Contract

Time Needed: 1 day to 2 weeks

The moment contracts are exchanged between both parties (exchange of contracts), the transaction becomes legally binding, and neither party can withdraw. It’s important to note that the exchange of contracts may not occur on the same day as the completion of the transaction. As a buyer, you need to pay a 10% deposit. Once both parties’ solicitors confirm that all documents are in order, you can proceed to pay the balance of the initial payment. During the completion, you will need to pay:

  • Solicitor’s fees
  • Estate agent fees
  • Stamp duty (unless the property is a first-time purchase below £300,000)

Reasons for Delaying the Buying Process

There are several reasons that can delay the buying process. Let’s look at some potential causes and how to expedite the progress.

Title Transfer Issues

The most common delays are often related to title transfers. Title transfer issues can arise due to problems with legal documents, disagreements between the buyer and seller, or complexities related to the property itself. To mitigate these delays, ensure that all documents are properly signed and organized. Promptly and accurately complete all required forms. If there are property-related issues or disagreements, your solicitor should provide coordination strategies.

Unexpected Findings from the Survey

If any issues are discovered during the survey, especially significant structural problems, it can slow down the buying process. Consider the costs of addressing these issues and decide if you are willing to handle them. You can request the seller to address the problems or negotiate a deduction from the purchase price to cover the necessary expenses. Sellers are usually open to these discussions unless they have already factored them into the price. These negotiations may delay the process by a few days or weeks.

Delays in the Property Chain

Problems within the property chain can cause delays. Property chains can be long and complex, where the purchase and sale of one property depend on another, creating a “chain” of interconnected transactions. Coordinating everyone to complete their transactions on the same day can be challenging. If there are delays within the property chain, you can ask your estate agent to liaise with other estate agents involved in the chain to expedite matters as much as possible.

*This article is not legal advice but provides a general overview. The specific details of your case will determine the best course of action.

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What is conveyancing?