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How long does it take to buy a house? That’s a question many people – whether they’re first-time buyers or a regular home mover – ask.

It’s a question that’s almost impossible to provide a definitive answer for.

But here at Homeward Legal, we like to offer solutions for every conundrum surrounding conveyancing, home buying and selling!

Once an offer has been made and accepted on a property, completing the deal can take anything from six weeks to six months.

Key steps in every deal to buy a house

Because each sale is unique, you’ll have to take into account different factors, such as whether the seller is buying another property or you have to sell your own before signing any contracts. This is what’s known as a chain and is often the biggest obstacle to completing a sale quickly.

However, there are key steps that occur in each time you buy a house.

So, here’s our guide to the typical timescale and key moments so you have a clearer idea of how long it takes to buy a house.

Remember all timescales are estimates – some property purchases can be completed much more quickly than others.

1 day to 1 year (or more…) – finding the right property

First things first – you need to find a home you want to buy! And we all know that can take time. You might be lucky and fall in love with the first place you view. But most home buyers will kiss a lot of frogs before finding their prince.

So, be patient. Take the time while you’re looking to work out your budget so you know exactly how much you can spend.

Apply early on for a mortgage so you can get an agreement in principle from a lender. This will save time later on and also indicate you’re a serious purchaser to estate agents and sellers.

Week 1: Making an offer

You’ve seen the house of your dreams or at least one that isn’t a living nightmare. You want to make an offer. This is the point at which you should consider instructing a conveyancing solicitor to act on your behalf.

A conveyancing solicitor – at Homeward Legal, we work with some of the best property law firms across England and Wales – will make the offer on your behalf. He or she will negotiate on the price with the seller’s solicitor.

And once your offer has been accepted, your solicitor will immediately go to work on all the legal work needed for you to buy the house.

Week 1: Apply for a mortgage

If you already have an agreement in principle with a lender, you’ve made a good start on securing your mortgage. Now it’s time to get serious and apply for a loan knowing exactly how much you need to borrow.

Make sure you have all the information the lender needs from the get-go. This will include pay slips for proof of income – you may need at least six months of pay slips to confirm your salary – proof of identity such as a passport and details about all your outgoings.

Respond quickly to any requests for information from the lender and from your solicitor to keep things moving.

Your solicitor must also act on behalf of the lender, so you can rest easy knowing that all solicitors on Homeward Legal’s nationwide panel are also on the lenders’ approved panel.

You need a firm mortgage offer before your solicitor can continue the conveyancing process, so let your lawyer know immediately once the lender says yes.

Week 1-2: Instructing a building survey (optional)

A building survey is not a necessity when you’re buying a new home. Depending on the age and condition of the property, however, your conveyancing solicitor might advise you to instruct a chartered surveyor to carry out a property survey.

Many lenders will insist on a minimum valuation survey to assure them the property is worth the money they’re lending you as a mortgage.

Not only that, but a survey can often uncover issues or defects with the property that may allow you to renegotiate on price or withdraw your offer altogether. So it’s well worth investing in to identity any future problems.

Our sister site, Surveyor Local, works only with chartered surveyors who are members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to offer a variety of building surveys at an affordable price.

Week 1-2: Commissioning property searches

One of the first things a buying solicitor does is order a series of property searches that will allow him or her to build a complete picture of the property itself and the area around it.

The searches are provided by specialist firms, such as our sister site, Searches UK. They approach the relevant authorities, including the local council, water and sewerage companies, for the information.

This part of the conveyancing process is also prone to delays because your solicitor is relying on third parties to respond quickly to requests for information.

Week 3-4: Contract negotiation

Your solicitor will ask the seller’s solicitor to provide an inventory of what is included in the sale. The selling solicitor’s role is to draw up a draft contract of sale that your solicitor will have to read and agree on.

This is also a potential point for delays as the solicitors are relying on the seller returning all the documentation on what to include in the sale.

Week 5-6: Negotiating a completion date

Your solicitor should now have had all the searches returned and the results of any building survey on their desk.

Assuming there have been no adverse results in any of those, the next step is to arrange a completion date.

This is the date when you can take possession of your new home.

Obviously it has to be a date that suits both you and the seller, so this is often negotiated by the two solicitors.

A completion or moving date is often done on a Friday, allowing you the weekend to move in.

Once you have a completion date, arrange buildings and contents insurance for the property. Your lender will need confirmation that this is in place before they release the funds to your solicitor.

Week 7-8: Transfer your deposit to your solicitor

The conveyancing process is almost complete – almost! The small matter of paying for the property has to be dealt with.

You will need to arrange to transfer your deposit to the bank account of your solicitor’s firm.

Be wary of scams where you unintentionally transfer the money to a fake account.

This is known in the conveyancing world as “Friday afternoon fraud“, precisely because many conveyancing transactions are completed on that day.

This fraud happens when scammers hack in a solicitor’s email account and send you an email asking you to pay money into a different account. By the time you realise what’s happened, the money has long gone.

It doesn’t just happen to deposits, either. The main target is usually the mortgage itself, which offers much richer pickings for the thieves.

Always check bank details in person or by telephone with your solicitor to keep fraudsters at bay.

You will sign the contract to buy the property at this stage, committing you to the purchase.

Week 8-10: Exchanging contracts

Once both you and the seller have signed your copy of the sale contract, the point of no return comes with the exchange of contracts.

This is when the two solicitors, usually by telephone, confirm that each has an identical copy of the contract.

And once contracts are exchanged, neither party can back out without a financial penalty. This is the point at which you know you’re ready to buy a house.

Week 8-10: Completion

Your conveyancing solicitor must now carry out the final searches on the property, checking with the Land Registry that the seller still has the legal title.

The solicitor will request the mortgage funds from the lender to be transferred, along with your deposit, to the seller’s solicitor.

Any outstanding mortgage on the property will be paid off by the seller’s solicitor and confirmation that their lender no longer has any claim on the property.

Your solicitor will then confirmation that this has been done and it’s official.

You now own your new home!

Post-completion

You have the keys and the joy of moving in to savour. But there is still some conveyancing to be done.

Your solicitor will pay any outstanding Stamp Duty Land Tax to HMRC for you. This has to be done within 14 days of completion.

Finally, he or she will register you as the property’s new owner with the Land Registry, who will issue new title deeds.

Your mortgage lender will hold on to the title deeds. But if you’ve bought mortgage-free, your solicitor will send them to you.