It’s an interesting question and one which often gets filed under the same category as the length of a piece of string. How long it takes to buy a property in the UK depends upon a whole array of different factors, and the first one of which is when exactly does one start the clock?
Many people asking how long it takes to buy a house in the UK will be asking because they have already found the house that they want to buy. They are counting down the days when they will be handed the keys. Officially, that’s when people start thinking about how much wine to buy for the house warming (other beverages are available).
It’s a reasonable starting point, and at this stage, we could comfortably tell them that it will be around 12-16 weeks before they move in. However, what’s interesting here is that these same people will have instantly forgotten the 9 months that it took them to find this new home in the first place. Oh, and let’s not forget the 3 months that it took them to find a buyer for their home first, and of course the 4 weeks it took to organise the financing as well.
So is it really sensible to suggest that it can take over a year to buy a house in the UK? For some, that answer may well be a resounding ‘Yes’. In this article, we’ll take a look at EVERY step involved in the purchase of a property in the UK. Including those that many of us might have forgotten all about.
Selling a house in the UK
Let us be mindful of the fact that this article seeks to address the question of how long it takes to buy a house in the UK, and not how long it takes to sell one. Therefore, in order to keep things simple, we’ll confine our scenario to that of the first time buyer.
There’s a particular order to things when it comes to buying a house. Do things in the right order, and all can go swimmingly well. Good planning can shorten the whole process, making things as stress-free as a house move can be – which by all accounts is one of the most stressful things that anyone can do. For tips on selling your home, check out our interview with Super Agent, Daniel Daggers.
Getting the Mortgage
Before even setting foot inside the estate agent’s office or logging on to their website (which is much more likely), it’s important to know exactly how much you can afford.
The house purchase will comprise three major sums at the outset; the deposit, the mortgage and all of the additional fees, which we shall cover later.
Naturally, the mortgage accounts for the vast majority of the financing of a property – typically between 90 and 95% of the value. Buyers can approach the various banks and building societies on the high street, but it is in their best interests to recruit the services of an independent mortgage broker.
Independent brokers can advise on the whole of the marketplace. Deals and special offers are continually changing, and what might look like the best offer for one purchaser may not be the best option for another.
The broker will require various pieces of information from the buyer, and along with the standard forms of identification will be the means to prove their income. There are countless ways in which banks calculate the suitability of an applicant to a mortgage. It would be next to impossible to list them all here because some of the rules will have changed between writing and publishing this article.
A skilled broker should be able to get a mortgage offer within a week, barring any complications on the part of the applicant. At this stage, it’s only an offer, and therefore only an agreement in principle. What this means is that the buyer now has much more bargaining power than before – they can and will have the mortgage once the property has been found and a sale agreed. Now it’s time to start house hunting.
How to find the right house?
There’s an old saying that suggests that home buyers will ‘just know’ their home when they find it. In the first instance, though, it’s a good idea to create a checklist of the essential things. Such things include:
- If it needs to be close to a station for commuting purposes, then precisely how close does it need to be? Does the town in which you’re looking have everything that you need and, if not, how easy is it to reach the neighbouring towns that do? In hindsight, should you be looking at those towns instead?
- How many bedrooms do they NEED? That emphasis on the word is for a reason. Many first time buyers look at properties that have more space than they actually require. Some are considering starting their families as soon as they move in. In that case, it makes sense for them to look at additional bedrooms. Others may be in the home for years before that space is needed. While a spare room is a nice thing to have if guests want to stay over, it’s an expense that most people really don’t need to incur.
- Some buyers relish the thought of fixing up a property that requires some care and attention. Indeed, this can often mean that the house is on the market for substantially less than market value, and a ‘fixer-upper’ can be a wonderful project on which to embark. Others, however, limit their DIY skills to the hanging of the occasional picture or putting up of the solitary shelf. Granted, some decorating is likely to be in order, but that work will be handed over to a professional.
- Time frame. Invariably, the property for sale will be part of a chain. The people living there need to find somewhere to live. The house that they’re moving into also has people living in, and so on. Of course, this is not always the case. There are many properties available for immediate possession for any number of reasons. If not, buyers need to ask themselves how long they’re prepared to wait, as this can affect their choices.
And beyond all of that is one major overriding factor – compromise. Taking into account everything that has been considered above, on which points is the buyer prepared to compromise? That level of flexibility is essential. It will guide the buyers on just how much time they should invest in looking at properties which don’t quite tick all of their boxes. Many a home has been bought by people who never would have considered it from merely reading its description. However, they fell in love as soon as they walked through the door for the first time.
Making an offer
Negotiating on a property is very much a product of market forces. If a home has been on the market for only a few days and has been seen by lots of people, the seller is unlikely to accept an offer of anything less than the asking price.
Similarly, if it’s been on the market for much longer and interest appears to have dwindled, then the owners may take a lower offer. Remember: the duty of the estate agent is to the owner. They are the clients, and the agent is instructed to get as much for the property as possible. While the agent is duty-bound to report any and all offers to the client, he or she is not going to suggest making a low offer.
Negotiation really should not take more than a day or two at most. Indeed, if the full asking price is offered and the owners are not feeling greedy, then the whole process need take no time at all.
Conveyancing is the process whereby solicitors are instructed on both sides to ensure that both buyer and seller are protected in the transfer of the deeds of the property. Estate agents will usually have connections with local solicitors if the buyers or sellers do not have their own.
This is where the fine print of the transaction gets looked over with great scrutiny. Land searches need to be filed so that the buyers are not hit with any nasty surprises. For example, if planning has just been approved for a sewage plant down the road, then living in that home may well become a lot less pleasant! It’s an extreme example, but such things do happen.
Whilst this conveyancing is taking place, the mortgage company will want to carry out a survey of the property. There are three main types of survey – a valuation report, which determines that the price agreed for the property is reasonable and in line with the current market. A homebuyers report goes into a little more detail and is generally recommended for properties over twenty years old. The surveyor will be looking for the stability of the structure and checking electricals, plumbing, etc. Finally, a full structural survey is precisely that – a complete appraisal of the building. These are vital if it’s believed that any significant works might be required to restore the stability of the building.
Exchange of Contracts
Assuming there are no nasty surprises, the conveyancing process typically takes between six and eight weeks. There are occasions when this time scale can be drastically reduced, but those are usually under exceptional circumstances.
The point of exchanging contracts is usually a cause for celebration, as it means that the sale is 99% likely to go through. This is also the point where the deposit is paid, and a completion date is set, which is usually 4 weeks from the date of exchange.
So how long does it take to buy a house in the UK?
If there are no major hitches, then the whole process from initial mortgage application to crossing the threshold as homeowners can take as little as 12 weeks. Although the UK average is 16 to 18 weeks. Some people are able to do things considerably faster, but the advice here is to be patient. A house is the single most significant investment that most people will make in their lifetime, so it pays to take a breath and slow down.