Buying a home – How long will it take?

This page was written by MHCLG’s home buying & selling team.

It typically takes around six months to buy and move into a new home. 

The precise amount of time taken will vary from person to person and depend on a number of factors including; whether the buyer also has a home to sell, whether the buyer is purchasing a new build property, whether the buyer is purchasing a freehold or leasehold, whether the seller has to find a home to move into themselves and whether the seller has already collated information about the property when they put it on the marketPurchasing a property as part of a chain of transactions will usually take longer than purchasing a property with no onward chain. 

However, there are certain stages that all buyers have to go through and the more preparation work you do in advance, the smoother your purchase is likely to be, particularly once your offer has been accepted.  

Step 1: before you view a property – 1 month

Before you start viewing properties you should do some homework. You should think carefully about what type of property you want to buy – new build or period property, flat or house, the number of bedrooms you want, how much renovation work you are prepared to do; whether you need outside space such as a garden or balcony; and whether you need a separate place to work.  If you want to run a business from home or, carry out building works at the property, this will also affect which type of property you should consider.  

You should also have an initial discussion with your lender or mortgage broker who will be able to advise you on how much money you will be able to borrow to make your purchase and they will be able to offer you a ‘decision in principle’ which will help when talking to agents. 

Once you have an indication of your budget and broad agreement on the type of property that you want, you can then think about which areas you want to live in.  You may want to consider not just the design or type of property, but also proximity to local schools, outside space, public transport, shops and entertainment venues.  Talking to agents and browsing property portals can help to identify areas to carry out your house hunt and to identify properties that will meet your needs.

You can also save yourself some time by choosing a legal adviser to support you through your purchase now.  

Step 2: viewing properties – varies

Once you have identified the type of property you want to buy and how much you have to spend, you should start talking to agents who operate in the area where you want to buy. Getting onto an agent’s radar will help make sure you are informed of suitable properties as soon as they become available.  Some people are lucky and will find their dream home very quickly, others will have to view a large number of properties before they find the home that is right for them. The process of finding your home is likely to require compromise in terms of size, location or appearance – it is rare that you will be able to move into a home which ticks every box on your wish list. Only you can decide how long this search process should last. 

Step 3: making an offer – 1 day plus

Once you have found your property, you should ask for the material facts disclosure which will identify anything which might affect your decision to buy the property.  You can ask a legal representative to review the disclosure against your intended use to make sure it is the right property for you before you make an offer to the seller.   

You are under no obligation to offer the selling price and estate agents are required to pass all offers onto sellers unless they have been specifically instructed by the seller not to do this. The negotiation process can take a number of days to complete as you go back and forth before you agree a purchase price. At this point the agent will regard this property as ‘sold subject to contact’.  

Step 3a: offer accepted – 1 week

You should now instruct your legal representative to act for you in the purchase of the property.  This could be a conveyancer, solicitor or notary public.  They will support you through the legal aspects of your purchase.  

Step 4: conveyancing – 8 weeks up to 16 weeks

This is the longest part of the process and your legal representative will begin assembling all of the necessary information about the property you wish to buy. This information comes from a variety of sources; local government, HM Land Registry, the sellers themselves and also any surveyors or other contractors you appoint to assess the property. Some of the steps in the process may run concurrently but all we need to be completed. At this point, you should also speak to removal firms to get quotes and a sense of their availability, unless you are planning to move yourself. 

Step 4a: formal mortgage application to mortgage offer 30 to 45 days

As soon as your offer is accepted you should approach your lender/mortgage broker and submit a formal mortgage application. This will be a thorough process and you will be asked to provide evidence about your income and the incomes of anyone else involved in the purchase as well as verifying your identity.  Before making their final lending decision, the lender will want to value the property you wish to purchase. This valuation may be carried out electronically using lender records or in person using a valuer.  Even when the mortgage offer is issued there may be information in there that your legal representative will need to verify with your lender to make sure that it meets the lender’s lending requirements. 

Step 4b: local searches and other information – 28 to 45 days

Your legal representative will also carry out a number of searches for you with the local council to understand whether there are any issues you need to be aware of; such as tree preservation orders or planned future development work. Your legal representative will also examine the information provided by the sellers, the water authority, environment agency and any other authorities relevant to the area where you are buying. They will also examine information from other relevant parties, such as the freeholder or managing agent when you are purchasing a leasehold property and will raise queries on your behalf if anything is unclear 

Step 4c: valuation/survey – 10 to 15 days

You should consider having a survey carried out on the property you are going to buy. A surveyor can offer a professional opinion on the physical quality of the property you are buying and will help you to identify whether any remedial work is necessary. Your legal representative will be able to help you with this decision and offer advice as to the type of survey you should carry out. Surveyors are often booked up weeks in advance and so it may take some time between making a booking and the survey actually happeningA surveyor may also recommend that further follow-up specialist assessments are made once the main survey has been completed, for example looking at electrics or damp. The survey report will usually contain estimates regarding the cost of any necessary repairs and you can use this to renegotiate the purchase price with the seller.  

 Step 5: exchange of contracts to completion – 2 to 4 weeks

Exchange of contracts can only happen once you, your legal representative and your mortgage lender are satisfied about every aspect of your house purchase including the purchase price. Once you have exchanged contracts you have entered into a legal commitment to purchase and cannot back out without substantial penalties. You can only exchange contracts once everyone in the chain of transactions is also ready to exchangeAs part of the exchange of contracts you will agree a completion date. This is the date by which your seller must vacate the property and you will take ownership of it. Once you have exchanged contracts you should make all of the arrangements necessary to allow you to move into your new property. At this point you should take out buildings insurance for the home you are purchasing. Discuss this with your legal representative. 

Step 6: moving day – 1 day

You cannot move into your new property until the purchase price has been paid over by your legal representative to the seller’s legal representative on the day of completion after which you will receive the keys from the estate agent. This will normally happen anytime from lunchtime on the day of completion. Once you have moved, you will need to make sure you notify relevant organisations of your change of address. 

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