You’ve done it! You’ve got your deposit and you’re now ready to start looking for your first home! 🎉🎉🎉

But how long does it take to go from viewing properties to actually owning one? The answer is — as with all things ‘first home’ — it depends.

No two routes to buying a home are the same. So here’s a rough idea of what to expect →

Stage #1: Building your team

Before you’re in the thick of it, you want to choose your solicitor and/or mortgage broker. This will help you to avoid unnecessary delays at times when you need to move quickly.

At this stage, do your own research and ask for personal recommendations from friends and family who have bought a home. It’s also a good idea to meet with your solicitor and/or mortgage broker in person or on a call if you can.

Time: 1 day — 2 weeks+

Potential delays

  • They’re not taking on new clients.
  • They’re busy and take a while to respond.
  • Trying to find someone who specialises in your case (e.g. self-employed).
  • Finding someone who you want to work with.
  • Struggling to find time in your schedule to meet for a kick-off.

Stage #2: Viewing properties

It’s here — all those years of scrolling through Zoopla and Rightmove have come to this. Probably the most fun part of buying a home (besides moving in, of course).

At this point, you’ll spend your time speaking with estate agents, going to viewings and daydreaming about what it would be like to live there. In some cases, you’ll find your home straight away. In others, it might be a year or even longer. The important thing is, don’t rush into buying a property just because you’ve got your deposit ready. Take your time to be really thorough with your viewings and consider ‘is this the right one for me’? But don’t get too caught up in the idea of your dream home either. That’s something you can build up to with renovations, redecorating or the next home you buy.

Prioritise what really matters to you. The right one will come along.

Time: 1 week — 1 year+

Potential delays

  • Not enough properties that meet your must-haves.
  • Too high demand — they’re selling too fast.
  • Current owners who aren’t getting back to you with answers to your questions.
  • Busy estate agents.
  • Not being sure about what you really want.
  • Current house prices — you might realise you need a bigger deposit.

Stage #3: Getting a Decision in Principle

A decision in principle (aka: an agreement in principle) is a non-binding statement from a lender that tells you how much you’ll likely be able to borrow for your mortgage. In Scotland, you need to have a DIP before you put in an offer. For the rest of the UK, it’s not compulsory, but it can up your chances of getting your offer accepted because it shows the estate agent that you’re serious about buying. They typically last between 60 and 90 days.

P.s. This is not an official agreement. You don’t know how much you can actually borrow until you apply for your mortgage. Also, you don’t have to get a mortgage with the lender that gave you a DIP.

Time: 15 minutes — 24 hours

Potential delays

  • Not having your information at hand.
  • Having a poor credit record.
  • DIP expires and you need to reapply.

Stage #4: Putting in an offer

You’ve found a home that you really love and you want to put in an offer. At this stage, you tell the seller what you’re willing to pay and your conditions of the sale. It’s all managed through the estate agent (unless you’re doing a direct sale).

As you’d expect, there’s a bit of negotiation here and you could be in competition with other potential buyers. It’s all about hitting the sweet spot between what the buyer wants for their property and what’s realistic for you.

Time: 1 day — 2 weeks (but could be longer)

Potential delays

  • Negotiations with the seller.
  • Being outbid by other buyers 💔
  • Busy estate agents.
  • The owner decides they don’t want to sell.
  • Not having a decision in principle.

Stage #5: Applying for a mortgage

They accepted your offer! Here’s what’s going to happen next.

First, you’re going to choose a mortgage that’s right for you. You can either do your own research or your mortgage broker will help you.

Then, you’re going to send the lender all the documentation they need to process your application. For example: Proof of income, your recent bank statements, proof of deposit and more. They use this info to judge if you’ll be able to afford your mortgage repayments, even if interest rates go up or you have kids etc.

Finally, there’s the mortgage valuation survey. At this point, the lender checks that the property is worth the money that you want to pay for it, and that they would get their investment back if they’d ever have to repossess your home (which hopefully they won’t).

Time: 3 — 5 weeks

Potential delays

  • The lender doesn’t accept your application.
  • The lender offers you a mortgage that’s below what you asked for.
  • Gifted deposit checks.
  • The current interest rate is too high and you want to wait.
  • The valuation says that the home isn’t worth what you want to pay.

Stage #6: Exchanging contracts

This is where your solicitor will do the majority of their work.

Important: We ask that your conveyancer give us 30 days notice for withdrawing funds so that we can make sure they are paid out in time for your eligible home purchase. Please ensure that your conveyancer is aware of this to avoid any potential issues during this process. We normally move a little more quickly than this and aim to have the funds arrive a week before the completion date, however, due to how important buying your first home is - we want to give as much time as possible to process your request and work with your conveyancer once they get in touch with us! 🔑

Next, they’ll carry out ‘searches and enquiries’ about the property. This means, they’ll speak with the Land Registry and local council to check things like land boundaries, planning permission and whether the current owner actually owns the property. People also hire their own surveyor to do a detailed survey to check the condition of the property before they sign anything.

Next, you’ll pay your deposit, including the money in your account (e.g. your Lifetime ISA) and any gifted deposits.

Once your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor have exchanged contracts and you’ve both signed on the dotted line, it’s time to celebrate!

Time: 1 — 3 months

Potential delays

  • The survey shows issues with the property.
  • You didn’t claim any gifted deposits when applying for your mortgage.
  • The seller backs out before signing the contract.
  • The local council and Land Registry take a while to get back to your solicitor.
  • The seller hasn’t signed the contract on their end yet.
  • The account you use for your deposit has withdrawal terms (e.g. you must give 90 days notice).

Stage #7: Completing the sale

After you’ve signed your contract, there’s a quick flurry of paperwork before you get your keys.

Your solicitor will carry out some more searches and send you the transfer deed to sign. Then, they withdraw the money from your mortgage lender and send it to the seller’s solicitor. At this point, you’ve officially bought your first home! After that, you pay your stamp duty (if necessary), let the Land Registry know that you’re the new owner of the property and in return, they’ll send you your title deeds. Phew!

All that’s left to do is to wait for the official completion date (which you will have agreed to in your contract) and start packing up for the big move. Congratulations!

Time: 3 – 5 weeks

Potential delays

  • The Land Registry has a lot of cases and could take longer getting back to you.
  • Typically, there’s an agreed 4 week period between exchanging contracts and picking up your keys, but sometimes the seller requests more time.
  • You haven’t booked a van that’s big enough to carry your out-of-control monstera plant.

Not quite at the ‘viewing properties’ stage, but more at the ‘saving for a deposit’ stage? See how our app could help you buy your first home sooner.