First Time Buyers' Guide
In this guide you'll learn about:
- Saving up a deposit
- Finding a mortgage
- Choosing a property
- Conveyancing - hiring a solicitor
- Get a building survey or homebuyer's report
- Negotiating on price
- Exchange and completion of contracts
- Buildings insurance
- Calculate your stamp duty
- Moving home
So you want to buy a place of your own?
Step one is to save up. Consider using a Help-to-Buy ISA or a Lifetime ISA, as these receive a bonus top-up.
These savings can be put towards your deposit. The bigger your deposit, the better mortgage rates you may get.
Now to find the best mortgage you can get. Do this before you go house-hunting.
If you're wondering, 'Can I get a mortgage?' then begin with our mortgage checklist. This helps you prepare step-by-step for your mortgage application.
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 use the Unbiased search to find an independent mortgage adviser. Your adviser can research the whole of the market to find the best mortgages in terms of affordability and suitability. Having a mortgage adviser greatly increases your chances of your application being accepted first time, and can also save you a great deal of money over the long term.
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 certificate from a lender before your mortgage is formally approved. This can reassure estate agents that you can afford a particular property.
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.
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 (anything between 25 and 75 per cent of its value) and pay rent on the rest. You usually have the option to buy out bigger shares in the property (up to 100 per cent) when you can afford to.
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 adviser 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.
When your offer is accepted, the buying process – known as conveyancing – can begin.
You can use the Unbiased search to find a solicitor near you. You may need to see them in person several times and hand over 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 for you – such as finding the property is on a short lease, or that the garden really belongs to next-door.
A good solicitor can make all the difference in the hectic final weeks of a home purchase.
It is advisable to hire your own chartered surveyor to report on your home before you exchange contracts.
For newer properties, a 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 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.
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.
You will probably have to pay stamp duty land tax (often called just stamp duty) on your purchase. This typically adds a few thousand to your purchasing costs, so factor it in.
Stamp duty is charged in bands. You pay nothing on the first £125,000 of the home's purchase price, then gradually increasing charges on the higher 'slices', as shown in this table:
Portion of home purchase price
Rate of stamp duty
£0 - £125,000
£125,001 - £250,000
£250,001 - £925,000
£925,001 - £1.5 million
Use this stamp duty calculator to find out how much yours will be.
The final stage of buying your home is a two-step process.
Step one is the exchange of contracts (which 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 (e.g. due to job loss or bereavement), you will have to pay significant costs.
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 is usually essential anyway. 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.
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!