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A guide for first-time buyers

It’s one of the most important things you’ll do in your life and, despite the fact it’s largely paperwork, one of the most exciting too. But it’s no secret getting on the property ladder can be a challenging experience at times.

Preparing for the process can help solve problems further down the line. Here, we'll take you through it so you know what to expect and can get everything lined up. Then just enjoy the ride, all the way through to putting your feet up on your first night as a homeowner.

For sale Board in front of a house

The chicken and the egg: mortgage or property first?

It can be confusing to know whether you need to get a mortgage or find the right property first. But the first step should be getting a good idea of the amount of money you have to play with.

This in turn will largely depend on two main factors: your salary and the size of your deposit. Some types of mortgage, like shared ownership, will have fewer lenders that offer them. But for a normal, first-time-buyer (FTB) mortgage, the similarities outweigh the differences.

The multiples of your salary may differ depending on lenders. For instance, some offer four times salary, while others offer five.

Your deposit amount will also affect the size of your mortgage and its interest rate. Let’s imagine you’ve got a deposit of £50,000. That’s 10% of £500,000, but 25% of £200,000. Paying a 25% deposit will mean your overall repayment amount will be smaller, but of course a £200,000 property may be smaller (depending on where you buy) than a £500,000. So it all depends on what you want.

Once you’ve got an idea of your maximum budget, you can start property hunting. If you’ve found your home, gone to a viewing or two and want to make an offer, that’s the time to get your agreement in principle (AIP) arranged. Or, if you’ve made an offer and it’s been accepted, then you can go ahead and apply for your mortgage.

To broker or not to broker

Mortgage brokers can take some of the hard work out of selecting a mortgage. They sometimes have exclusive rates from lenders and they are very knowledgeable about the market. If you’re unsure about what mortgage is best for you, using a broker can make life significantly simpler. From selecting the right mortgage through to application and approval, they should help you out every step of the way.

Remember, though, that they may charge a fee, so it’s important to be upfront about what this is before you commit to using their services. They may also want you to buy life insurance via them around the time of exchanging, so it’s helpful to decide early on whether or not this is a product you want.

Remember, there’s lots of choice of policies and providers of not just life insurance for you as the homeowner but also home insurance to protect your building and its contents. It’s important to shop around to find what’s best for you.

Doing viewings

Knowing what to look out for when viewing properties can mean the difference between being wowed by flashy décor that masks a serious issue or buying a property that comes laden with expensive problems.

Have a look at our guide on doing viewings to make sure you’re asking the right questions.

Making an offer

When’s the right time to make an offer? It’s common practice to negotiate a sale price. You won’t know the lowest price that the vendors are willing to go to, and it’s normal for buyers and sellers to be tactical about the figures they offer before arriving at a mutually agreeable price.

Unless you’re offering over the asking price in order to guarantee acceptance, your first offer is likely to be rejected. Making an offer that is extremely low can be viewed as insulting and may queer your pitch with the vendors overall, however you should only make an offer if you’re prepared for it to be accepted. So never make an offer you can’t afford.


You don’t have to get a survey done, but it’s usually a good idea – especially if the home you’re buying isn’t a new-build.

Like with any service, it’s wise to get a few quotes. Make sure that your surveyor is RICS-certified and knows the local area well. Also be sure to understand what type of survey you need. We’ve got a guide to surveys and valuations to help you decide what’s best for your circumstances.

The results of a survey can cause you to revise your offer. Remember that neither the sales estate agent nor the vendors have an automatic right to see the results of any survey you pay for; the reports surveyors produce are for you alone. If you choose to share them, that is allowed, however you may not want your vendors to use a survey you have purchased in the future if your purchase falls through.


You will need to appoint and instruct solicitors to take care of the purchase of the property. If you have friends or family who have solicitors they’d recommend, then it can save hassle to know you’re in a safe pair of hands, even if they cost a little more.

Otherwise, it is very easy to find a solicitor’s practice. Your lender will have a list of approved law firms so it’s important to make sure your solicitor is on your lender’s list.

Your solicitor will be able to advise you of all the steps you need to take through to completion. But remember that you may have concerns that they won’t automatically consider. For instance, if you are aware of potential disruption in the area and it hasn’t appeared on your searches, this doesn’t mean that it’s not going ahead. It’s crucial to ask your solicitor to investigate any and all concerns you have.

Exchange and completion

When you are ready – and your solicitors will let you know when they think this is – you can exchange contracts with the vendors. This is the point of no return: after this stage, you are legally obligated to buy the property. You will be required to transfer some or all of the deposit to your solicitors at this stage.

You will also be asked to choose a completion date. This will be negotiated with the vendors and is also your moving-in date. So it’s important to make sure you have sufficient time to get everything sorted so that you don’t miss this date.

The completion date is also the day your mortgage is transferred by your lender (though many will do so the day before) and you must pay any remainder of your deposit, as well as settle the balance with your solicitors. It can be an expensive day, however, it is also the day you officially become a homeowner.


When you are confident that the purchase is going ahead, you should start getting removals quotes. You will usually be given a provisional date that is reserved for a brief time, so if you have a date in mind for completion, this can be helpful. Removals costs can be higher than expected, so it’s a good idea to take a thorough inventory of your possessions before searching for quotes.

Don’t forget

When you move into a house you’ve bought, there ought to be no trace of the previous residents except the décor. That can mean you’re short a few really crucial items, like loo roll, washing up liquid, hand soap, tea bags and milk, hand towels and so on.

So before you move, make a note of the things you use on any given morning and make sure you’ve got those items to hand on the day of the move.

And why not pack something to give yourself as a treat for moving day, whether that’s a bottle of bubbly or just a slice of cake.

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