Updated 01 June 2022
From the day you start searching for a home to buy to the day you get your keys, all sorts of things have to happen. And it feels pretty much out of your hands with estate agents, solicitors, mortgage advisers and lenders all needing to do their bit.
So how long will it all take? You could say the home-buying process is as long as a piece of string – it could be anything from six weeks (exceptionally quick), to six months (not unusual) or even longer. But it can help you to understand which are the most time-consuming parts of the process, so that it doesn’t drag on more than necessary.
You will probably spend at least a few weeks looking at properties. Even if you think you’ve seen your dream home on day one, keep looking – a home is one item for which you should definitely shop around. It may even be months before you find ‘the one’.
To speed up the search, register with as many local estate agents as possible, so they can notify you directly of suitable properties coming on the market. But don’t rely on this exclusively – continue actively searching online, in local papers and on the high street.
If you find a property and are in a position to make an offer, chase the seller’s estate agent the following day if you haven’t heard back yet.
This is the part that can take the most time. The journey from having an offer accepted to exchanging contracts usually takes several months, depending on the complexity of the sale and the number of buyers in the chain. Through this period, known as the conveyancing process, keep in regular contact with your solicitor. Try to get a clear idea of when contracts will be exchanged, as far in advance as possible, so you don’t book any holidays or other commitments around the expected completion date.
Once your offer is accepted, your mortgage lender needs to confirm that they will lend you the money, and the amount. For this they will conduct their own valuation survey (which you pay for) to ensure the house is worth the price you’ve agreed. At this stage you should commission your own survey too – this can be conducted at the same time and by the same surveyor, to save money.
If your survey reveals problems with the property, this can cause delays depending on their severity. A serious problem like dry rot or woodworm could mean major costs for you, so would be strong grounds for renegotiating on price (or even pulling out of the purchase altogether and finding a different place to buy). Similarly, if you are selling a property and your buyers’ survey reveals a problem, that too could causes holdups or jeopardise the sale.
Bear in mind that a mortgage offer may expire if the sale doesn’t go through within about six months. Your mortgage adviser will be useful if there’s a risk of this happening, as they should be able to negotiate an extension or a new deal.
One home purchase is complex enough – so just imagine a whole chain of buyers and sellers all trying to do the same thing. This is why it’s a good idea to avoid long property chains if you can, as the chances of something going wrong increases with every extra link in the chain.
Some buyers try to speed things up by selling their home for cash. Being a cash buyer makes you an attractive prospect and may help you negotiate a lower price, but it also carries some risk and inconvenience for you. For example, you will have to move into temporary accommodation (probably rented) and if the housing market is rising, your purchasing power will start to fall as time goes by.
The exchange of contracts generally happens a few days before completion. Once contracts are exchanged, you cannot pull out of the sale without incurring major financial penalties.
Completion day is the day on which the money for your purchase is transferred to the seller (via your solicitor) and you become the legal owner of the property. It is also usually the day on which you’ll move. If you’re in a chain, you will have to wait for the purchases below you in the chain to complete before yours can go head. For this reason, completion day can feel as long as all the rest of the process put together – but it should be worth it by the end!
Find out more about what your solicitor does for you during the conveyancing process.