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First time buyer's guide

Saving up a deposit

So you want to buy a place of your own? Step one is to save for a deposit.

Consider using a lifetime ISA, as you can save up to £4,000 a year and get a bonus top-up from the government of 25% annually (up to £1,000 a year). 

These savings can be put towards your deposit. The bigger your deposit, the better mortgage rates you may get.

Next, you need to find the best mortgage you can get. Do this before you go house-hunting.

Finding a mortgage

If you're wondering, 'Can I get a mortgage?' then begin with our mortgage checklist. This online tool helps you check the strength of your mortgage application and improve it.

Also, do all you can to improve your credit score – this can save you thousands in the long term.

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender will run a credit check on you to decide how much you can afford to borrow.

Now, you should search for an independent mortgage broker who can research the whole of the market to find the best mortgages in terms of affordability and suitability.

Having a mortgage broker greatly increases your chances of your application being accepted the first time and can also save you a great deal of money over the long term.

Let us match you to your
perfect mortgage adviser

Read up on the different types of mortgages to start thinking about which mortgage is right for you.

You may be able to get a 'mortgage in principle' from a lender before your mortgage is formally approved. This can reassure estate agents that you can afford a particular property.

Guarantor mortgages

If you find it hard to get an ordinary mortgage, you may still be offered a guarantor mortgage if you have parents or other family who are willing to help you out.

With this kind of mortgage, the guarantors (e.g. your parents) agree to cover your mortgage repayments if you cannot.

Shared ownership

If a lender won’t offer you a large enough mortgage to buy a whole property, another option is shared ownership.

This is where you purchase a portion of the home and pay rent on the rest. Find out more about shared ownership.

First Homes scheme

The government's First Homes scheme is a policy that will provide discounted homes to first-time buyers in England who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one.

More specifically, under this scheme, first-time buyers will be able to buy a new-build home in their community at a discount of 30%-50% less than its market value. 

Buying with friends

It's even possible to buy a property in a group of up to four friends. Find out more about buying as tenants in common.

Choosing a property

Once you know how much you can borrow, you can search for homes in your price range.

Aim for the best you can afford, but give yourself a safety margin.

Your mortgage broker can show you how interest rate rises will increase your mortgage repayments, to help you work out what you can afford.

Be persistent – you may have to view a lot of properties before you have an offer accepted.

An alternative to house-hunting is building your own home, though only if you are confident managing a major project.

Conveyancing - hiring a solicitor

When your offer is accepted, the buying process – known as conveyancing – can begin.

For this, you'll need a solicitor. You may need to contact them many times and send important documents, so being local is a big advantage.

Your solicitor’s job is to ensure that your purchase is fully legal and that there are no nasty surprises, such as finding the property is on a short lease, or that the garden really belongs to your next-door neighbours.

A good solicitor can make all the difference in the hectic final weeks of a home purchase.

Getting a survey

It is advisable to hire your own chartered surveyor to report on your home before you exchange contracts.

For newer properties, a RICS HomeBuyer’s report should be sufficient if you have no immediate plans for major building work.

However, if the property is over 30 years old, unusual or in apparently poor condition, you should arrange a RICS building survey (often called a ‘full structural survey’).

Likewise, if you plan to carry out an extension or conversion, you should choose this more detailed survey. A building survey can cost between £500 and £2,000, depending on the size of the home.

Find out more about property surveys.

Negotiating on price

Sometimes a survey will turn up problems that are not deal-breakers, but which will incur unforeseen costs for you.

In such cases, it may be worth trying to renegotiate with the vendors to see if they will lower the price by a suitable amount.

Be reasonable and realistic, and remember that they are under no obligation to do so.

Calculate your stamp duty

You may not need to pay any stamp duty, as you don't pay any on the first £250,000.

After that, stamp duty is charged in bands, as shown in this table: 

£250,001 - £925,000


£925,001 - £1.5 million


Over £1.5 million 12%

Use this stamp duty calculator to find out how much yours might be.

In Wales and Scotland, the rules are different.

In Wales, the tax is called the land transaction tax (LTT); in Scotland, it's called the land and buildings transaction tax (LBTT).

Use these calculators instead:

LLT calculator (Wales)

LBTT calculator (Scotland)

Exchange and completion

The final stage of buying your home is a two-step process.

Step one is the exchange of contractswhich your solicitor will handle.

Once contracts are exchanged, you are legally obliged to proceed with your house purchase. If you have to pull out at this stage, you will have to pay significant costs.

At this stage, your seller will need you to pay an initial deposit - usually 10% of the value of the property. However, this amount can sometimes be negotiated.

The final step is the completion day (typically a week after exchange).

Your lender transfers your mortgage money to your solicitor, who transfers it to the vendors via their solicitor.

Once the money has arrived, the estate agent release the keys to your new home, and you can move in!


Buildings insurance is a policy that pays out if your home is destroyed (e.g. by fire).

Your lender will insist that you have it, but you can buy it from a different provider if you wish. Ensure that your cover begins on the day you exchange contracts.

Life insurance is not compulsory, but it is essential. It means that your mortgage will be paid off in full should one of the mortgage holders die, so your family can stay in their home.

Moving home

The moving process may involve additional expenses, such as removal costs and a fee to cover the money transfer.

Most homes (unless brand-new) will require some refurbishment and redecoration after you move in, so try to keep some cash in reserve to cover these extra costs.

Don't forget to update your address with all the relevant bodies, especially your bank(s), the DVLA (if you drive) and any pension schemes you hold.

Now you can settle in and enjoy your new home!

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.