A guide to first time buying
Buying your first home is an exciting experience but it can also be stressful. This guide to buying in England and Wales should help take some of the stress out of the process, so you can really enjoy your first home purchase.
And if you’re buying in Scotland where the process is different you’ll find some helpful information on dealing with the purchase process there too.
Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.
Make buying your first home as painless as possible
Researching the area
You aren't just buying a home; you're joining a community. Get a feel for the area to make sure it's the kind of place you'll be comfortable in. It's a good idea to visit at different times of day, on weekdays and at weekends – so you can really build up a picture of the neighbourhood. If you're buying on your own, take a friend or relative with you for a second opinion.
Getting the money together
How much you can borrow will depend on your financial circumstances - including your income, credit history, outgoings, the amount of deposit you can get together and whether you're buying alone or with others.
If you need help with your budget use our Budget Planner . There’s also a Mortgage calculator to help you work out how much your mortgage repayments could be each month. If you are buying a leasehold property like a flat you should also allow for ground rent and extras such as service charges.
When you buy a property you’ll also incur legal fees, stamp duty (if applicable) and moving costs, so it’s important to include these in your initial calculations. It's also a good idea to have a little extra to deal with the unexpected.
Which mortgage is right for you?
There are lots to choose from so it’s worth getting help. At Woolwich we offer our complete range of mortgages to first-time buyers and our mortgage specialists can talk you through them and help you decide which one best meets your needs. You can find details of them all on our website.
How to pay
When choosing your first mortgage you’ll have to decide how you want to repay it. If you choose a repayment mortgage your monthly payments cover both interest and capital, so at the end of the mortgage term you will have paid off the full amount borrowed, including interest.
If you choose an interest-only mortgage the amount of capital remains constant: you only pay the interest. In this case, at the end of the mortgage term the capital you have borrowed will still be outstanding and will need to be repaid in full (which means you’ll need to put in place a suitable repayment vehicle).
There are other factors to consider when choosing a mortgage, including application fees, early repayment charges, the ability to under or overpay, and whether you can afford the repayments once a fixed or discounted rate ends.
Putting in an offer on the property
This is probably the most exciting yet nerve-wracking part of the process.
Make sure your offer doesn't leave you stretched and unable to meet your commitments and beware of getting into a bidding war - you don’t want to end up paying more than the property is worth.
At this stage your offer is not legally binding so, for example, if a survey shows you will need to do work on the roof you could negotiate the price down in compensation.
When your offer is accepted
Your estate agent will need to write a letter to confirm your offer has been accepted. At this stage you might be asked to pay a deposit but always check if this will be returned to you if the purchase doesn't go ahead.
The deal is not legally binding until contracts are exchanged, but once they are your deposit will be non-refundable.
All legal work should be carried out by a solicitor or licensed conveyancer. You may want to ask friends or family to recommend one and it’s worth getting quotes from several firms.
Surveys and valuations
Once your offer is accepted you can complete the application for your mortgage.
Your mortgage lender will then arrange for a valuation of the property. This usually carries a fee and is a basic valuation; if you want a more detailed survey you should appoint your own surveyor.
Structural v homebuyer survey
A building or structural survey will give you a full picture of the construction and condition of the property including technical details and defects.
A homebuyer's survey and valuation, on the other hand, will provide details of urgent defects but is not suitable for properties that need renovating or if you are planning on undertaking major works.
The run-up to the big move
Once you and your solicitor are satisfied with the pre-completion surveys and arrangements (including your mortgage offer), contracts can be exchanged. You and the seller are now legally bound to follow through with the transaction. If you pull out you could lose your deposit.
Arrange insurance for the property (your solicitor will tell you if you need to insure from exchange of contracts) and inform utility companies, your bank and others of your move. Don't forget to get your mail redirected to your new address.
Completion is the day when the balance of the money owed is paid to the seller - this is arranged through your solicitor or licensed conveyancer - and you pick up the keys and can move in.
Buying in Scotland
In Scotland the property buying process is different. Here's how it works in most cases:
- The process can move very quickly, so you need to appoint a solicitor before you start looking for a property.
- Once you find a property, tell your solicitor to 'note interest' - this is informing the seller's solicitor or estate agent that you're interested in buying it.
- The property may be marketed at a 'fixed price' or 'offers over'. Your solicitor will advise at what stage you should instruct a survey.
- If it is a 'fixed price' normally the first offer submitted at that price (which is not subject to a survey) will be accepted. If it is not a 'fixed price' a closing date for offers will usually be set and all parties who have noted interest will be told. You'll know the asking price and then make a secret bid in writing above this amount - a verbal offer isn't enough. This is called the 'offers over' system.
- Apply for a mortgage before making a bid so that you know exactly how much you can afford. It’s also a good idea to have a survey carried out before you make a bid as the result may affect the amount you offer.
- Your solicitor will submit your offer and a proposed 'date of entry' (the date on which the price will be paid and the keys received).
- If your bid is successful both parties' solicitors exchange letters agreeing the terms of purchase, including the price and date of entry. When this is done the contract becomes legally binding on both the buyer and the seller and 'missives are concluded'.
- On the date of entry, once your funds have been transferred to the seller's solicitor to settle the price, your solicitor will receive the title deed, the 'disposition' (the legal document that transfers the property to you) and you will receive the keys to the property.