How to buy a house
Buying a property is an exciting time. However, it can be stressful too, whether you are buying a home for the first time, or you have purchased a property many times before.
Work out your budget
- You and/or your partner's income
- The equity in your existing property (if you have one)
- The size of your deposit for your mortgage (if you need one)
- Any outstanding debts or committed outgoings
Before you begin your search for property to buy, it's worth discussing your requirements with your mortgage lender or financial adviser to determine how much you can afford. Most lenders will lend up to three times your salary. Some will lend you more, though often at a higher rate.
These days there are thousands of mortgages to choose from and some will be more appropriate for you than others, depending on your circumstances. For more information on mortgages and the different products available, read the PrimeLocation guide to choosing the best mortgage.
As well as determining the value of a property you can afford, it's also worth remembering the numerous additional charges that you may incur as part of the property buying process. Here are the main expenses you should be aware of:
- Your deposit
- Stamp Duty
- Estate agency fees (find an estate agent)
- Solicitor's fees
- Lender's valuation fee (guide to mortgages)
- Survey fee
- Removal costs
- Buildings and contents insurance (guide to home insurance)
- Furniture and fittings
In particular, work out how much stamp duty you are likely to pay, given your property budget, as this can be one of the most expensive additional costs involved in buying a home.
Define your requirements
You'll no doubt have plenty of requirements from your prospective new home but the realities are that what you can achieve will be dictated by your budget.
Do you want a house, flat, maisonette, bungalow or cottage?
A good start would be to look at properties that have sold in the areas you're most interested in to see how much they eventually sold for. This will inform you of what property types, sizes and styles you can afford in the different areas you may be looking in. You can access sold prices in England and Wales here on PrimeLocation and it's free when you register with us.
You can also search for flats and houses to buy on PrimeLocation to understand what you can afford in the areas that are of most interest to you.
There are a number of factors to consider when buying a property, which, once you have a firm idea, you should discuss with any estate agent you deal with. Remember, you may have to be flexible, or compromise somewhere along the journey, so be open to suggestions and ideas and don't always dismiss everything that may not be totally on brief. You may be surprised by what you find.
New versus re-sale property
There are advantages and disadvantages to both new homes and re-sale homes and your choice will often depend on your own circumstances and your plans for the property.
- Are you looking to renovate to increase the value of a property?
- Do you want to move into an already finished property, with little or no work to do?
- Are you looking for a period property or specific style of home?
- Do you want an energy efficient property with the latest technology available?
- Are you looking for a property without a chain where you can move in quickly?
Newly-built homes offer the convenience factor for buyers, with many builders offering additional incentives for purchase, such as your Stamp Duty paid, or a contribution to your deposit. If the property is built by a member of the National Home Building Council, the property is likely to have a 10 year guarantee to protect you from any problems that may arise with the building itself.
Find out more by visiting the National Home Building Council website. You can search now for a selection of new homes for sale on PrimeLocation, or you can read more about how to buy a new build house or flat on PrimeLocation.
By contrast, re-sale properties can offer the buyer the chance to increase the value through renovation and decoration, allowing for a greater chance of moving up the property ladder at a later stage. They may have more character and a history that might also act as a selling point in the future. With older properties, too, there is often a greater opportunity for you to make your own mark, to stamp your own sense of identity on the home.
There are plenty of factors to consider when thinking about the location of your ideal home and it's crucial that you think through what is most important to you. For example, how critical is the proximity of the best local schools, the commute distance to work, accessibility to restaurants and bars, access to public transport, closeness to friends or relatives, crime rates or neighbours?
It pays to prioritise them and any other factors that may be relevant, to help you determine your ideal location.
When you conduct a property search on PrimeLocation, you can view local amenities on a map when you see your search results.
Once you have an idea of the property type you're looking for, you'll need to consider your actual living requirements. Again, your circumstances and lifestage will largely determine what you need, but here are a few considerations that may help you define what you are looking for and what is most important to you in your search:
- Property type - new, old, period, style (Victorian, Edwardian, Georgian)
- Location - schools, work, social facilities, friends and family
- Flat, maisonette or house (detached, semi detached)
- Freehold or leasehold.
- The interior
- Bedrooms - number and sizes
- Bathrooms - number and sizes, ensuite
- Reception rooms - number and sizes, separate dining room, play room
- Kitchen - size
- Utility room
- Storage - cupboards, loft space
- Heating - central heating, electric, gas, energy efficiency
- Period features
- The exterior
- Garden/land - size, front, back
- Windows - double glazing
- Main roads - near, set back from, away from.
- Special requirements
- Swimming pool
- Off-street parking
Searching for property to buy
Once you have a firm idea of what you're looking for and where, it's time to start searching in earnest. These days, searching for a house or flat to buy has never been easier and there are plenty of ways to track down your dream home.
Searching online for property
A property portal, such as PrimeLocation, is the best place to search hundreds of thousands of properties for sale from all over the country and abroad. In fact, according to research by PrimeLocation, property hunters rate the internet as their preferred and most used source for finding flats or houses. You can search for property on PrimeLocation right now.
There are many advantages of searching for property for sale online, including:
- Convenience: Search among the properties of thousands of agents, all in one place.
- Greater choice: Search by price, number of bedrooms, location, or by keywords.
- Access to photos and floorplans: Get detailed information on each individual property for sale.
- Get email alerts: Register with Primelocation and get free email alerts about suitable properties for sale as soon as they come to market.
- Managing saved properties: You can save and manage relevant properties for sale in your own dedicated area of the site, exclusive to you.
- Knowing your market: You can get up to speed on the latest market conditions by reading the latest PrimeLocation House Price Index.
- Identifying the right estate agents: A great place to find estate agents to register with.
- Saving time: By searching for property to buy online, you can save time by discarding properties you don't want to view and quickly finding those you do want to view.
Other ways of searching for property
In addition to the internet, there are a number of other ways you can search for property to buy. These include:
- Local newspapers and classified sections: A useful source for finding properties for sale, but be aware that by the time many papers are printed, some properties may already have been sold.
- Estate agents: Walk into your local estate agents and ask for details of relevant properties for sale which you can look through at your leisure. It's a good indicator of whether the agent has on its books a decent number of properties that match your criteria.
- 'For sale' boards in your area: Drive around your designated areas, have a look at any 'for sale' boards that are up and make a note of which agents they are with.
- Property search agents: For a fee, you can always hire a firm to find relevant properties for you, tracking down and arranging viewings for you and giving you advice on securing your property. Find a property search agent on PrimeLocation.
Register with estate agents
Once you have found a few estate agents, you might want to register your details with them and they will then inform you of any properties for sale that match your criteria. It is often a good idea to meet the estate agents in person to discuss your requirements and for them to get a clear understanding of what you're looking for. You can then decide how you want to receive information on the properties that come to market. For further information, read our guide on how to get the best from estate agents when buying a property.
Arranging and viewing properties
Once you identify some suitable properties, you can arrange a viewing through the estate agent who is selling the property. It is advisable to view a range of properties in order to get a good understanding of what is available to you in particular areas.
Remember, it's a competitive market, so arrange viewings as soon as you can to give yourself the advantage. Many estate agents will be flexible about arranging viewings outside of working hours, such as early evening and maybe even early morning or at the weekend, if it's convenient for the seller. However, do try to view the property in daylight so you are better able to spot any problems that may not be fully visible in the evening. Get more information on the key things to consider when viewing properties to buy.
Making an offer
So, you've conducted your viewings and you've found the property you've been searching for. It's time to make an offer. Before you jump straight in with a figure, it's worth setting some ground rules that will help you in your negotiations.
These will depend on your own circumstances and how keen you are to secure the purchase of the property. Decide the maximum value you are willing to offer for the property before negotiations start. And decide on how low you want to start your offer on the property.
Arm yourself with as much information as possible about the property and the market before you start negotiations. The estate agent will be able to offer you advice, but you should always bear in mind that they are essentially working for the seller. You may want to find out:
- What is the asking price now and has it been lowered in the past?
- How much interest has there been in the property?
- How long has it been on the market for?
- Does the seller need to move quickly?
Have they already found a flat or house to move to?
- Have they already received offers from other potential buyers?
How much were they for and were they rejected? How long ago?
- How have prices in the area moved over the last few years?
- What planned developments in the area might influence values in the future?
Your own situation will influence a seller's decision to accept your offer over another one, too. Here are a few situations which may give you the edge in your negotiations:
- You are chain-free: You have no property to sell, so you can move quickly.
- You have exchanged on your existing property: You're in a strong position to finance the purchase and are able to move quickly.
- You have a mortgage offer already on the table: You can get the financial ball rolling as soon as an offer has been accepted.
- You are a cash buyer: You can move faster than anyone relying on a mortgage to finance the purchase.
Once you have all the information you need, it's time to make the offer. This is usually done by calling the seller's estate agent, clarifying your current position and making an offer. The estate agent must notify the seller of any offer the property receives. Some buyers will instinctively offer much lower than the asking price to begin with in order to test the water and will then work upwards towards a mutually agreed price, but much will depend on the circumstances of all parties in the process.
Some buyers ask for the property to be removed from the market completely and for this to be confirmed in writing after an offer has been accepted. This is to avoid gazumping. It occurs when the seller accepts a higher offer from another buyer after yours has already been accepted. Unfortunately, it is legal and can be very upsetting should it happen to you.
The seller's decision to remove it from the market will largely depend on your buying position - for example, if you're chain-free and can move quickly, or if you have exchanged on your existing property. Most will agree out of goodwill.
During your negotiations, always remember:
- Be calm and polite at all times
- Sell your own position if you believe it gives you an advantage
- Be confident in your offers
- Be patient
- Don't get too carried away and offer anything beyond your means.
In some cases, a property for sale will go to sealed bids. This is when a property receives multiple offers from prospective buyers. The final decision of who to sell to is usually based on the value of the offers and the circumstances of the buyers (whether they are cash buyers, chain-free). There are no rules about how high you can bid, it will come down to how much you can afford, the level of the competition and how much you're prepared to part with to secure the property.
Commissioning a survey
Once an offer has been accepted, subject to contract, you should think about getting a survey conducted on the property. The survey acts as a kind of health check on the property you are buying and will inform you of any major problems or defects that lie within the structure of the building itself, which could be problematic or expensive to rectify.
Should you find any major problems, you can then renegotiate with the seller to reduce the agreed price to correct any problems or allow the seller to fix the problem themselves before the sale takes place.
The legal process
The legal process of buying and selling is known as conveyancing. The legal process varies depending on whether the transaction is taking place in England and Wales or in Scotland. Find out more information on what your property solicitor will do, whether you're buying or selling, or both. You can also get some handy tips from our guide to choosing a property solicitor here on PrimeLocation.
Preparing to move
So, all the legal work has been conducted and it is time to think about moving home. PrimeLocation's comprehensive moving house section contains all the helpful hints and advice you could need, including a dedicated moving checklist.
Some information contained herein may have changed since it was first published. PrimeLocation strongly advises you to seek current legal and/or financial advice from a qualified professional.