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House-buying process and timeline

How long does it take to buy a house? And what exactly is involved? If you’ve ever wondered what the house-buying process entails, here’s what you can expect.

How long does it take to buy a house? And what exactly is involved? If you’ve ever wondered what the house-buying process entails, here’s what you can expect.

Written by
Alex Hasty
Insurance comparison and finance expert
19 JANUARY 2021
4 min read
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How long does buying a house take?

Buying a house can be a drawn-out process, but exactly how long it takes will be down to your circumstances. The length of time it takes to buy will depend on whether you’re in a chain or what – if any – issues the survey throws up, for example.

In any case, the house-buying process involves a series of steps, so it’s never going to happen overnight. Some experts say the average house sale takes 15 weeks to complete, but it can be as long as six months.

Timeline for buying a house

When you make a house purchase, there’s a list of stages you’ll have to go through. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Get a mortgage agreement in principle (AIP)
    Once you’ve made the decision to buy a property, the first thing to do is approach a lender to get a mortgage agreement in principle. Thankfully, this is a pretty quick process, which can be done in 24 hours. When you’ve got your AIP in place, you’ll know how much you can afford to spend.
  • Appoint a solicitor
    Now’s the time to get a conveyancing solicitor on board. It’s best to get one sooner rather than later, as you’ll need their help once you put an offer on a house.
  • Find a property you love
    This is (hopefully) the fun bit. How long finding a property takes is really down to you, your financial situation and how lucky you get.
  • Put in an offer
    Do you want to go in under asking price and risk losing out, or are you willing to pay over the odds? If you make a lowball offer, you could find yourself grabbing a bargain – although you also risk being gazumped. How much you end up paying will depend on the market, but your solicitor can advise you. If and when you decide to make an offer, call the seller’s estate agent and let them know.
  • Pre-contract stage
    Once your offer’s been accepted, the work really starts. This stage of the process can take anything between one and three months.

Conveyancing process timeline

Once you’ve put in an offer and had it accepted, you’re on to the next phase. This is called conveyancing. During this time, you’ll need to:

  • Get your mortgage offer in place
    We can help you compare mortgages and get the right deal for you.
  • Draft contracts
    This is a job for your solicitor, who’ll get in touch with both your seller’s solicitor and the Land Registry. The contract is something that needs to be properly thought through, so again this process can take a few weeks.
  • Do searches and surveys
    This is where you get to know exactly what you’re buying. Searches check if there are any restrictions or preservation orders relating to the property, while the survey tells you about the state of the premises and what work needs doing. If you’re buying a period property, it’s often worth paying extra for a more detailed survey.  
  • Exchange to completion
    When you exchange contracts, you’ll have to pay a deposit and your contract becomes legally binding. There’s a bit of a gap between exchange and completion, giving you time to get your finances sorted.  

    Completion day’s the exciting bit – this is when the payment for the property is transferred from your solicitor to the seller's solicitor. Then the seller has to move out and you get to pick up the keys. This is also when the property becomes your legal responsibility, so don’t forget to have your buildings insurance in place.

Do you need a solicitor for buying a house?

You’re not legally obliged to have a solicitor when buying a house. But in reality, it can make the job a whole lot easier, as conveyancing is a complex legal process where ownership is transferred from one person to another.

Instead of a solicitor, you could use a licensed conveyancer. This may be a cheaper option. The alternative is that you do it yourself, although most experts would warn you off this and tell you it’s a false economy.

How long does a mortgage application take?

The mortgage process is a little more complicated than getting a mortgage agreement in principle. Having a mortgage broker can speed things along, as they’ll be familiar with the ins and outs, and will have a better idea of which lender is right for you. 

How long does it take to get a mortgage?

Getting your initial mortgage agreement in principle can take as little as 24 hours. You may find that you need one of these in place before estate agents take you seriously as a buyer.

Getting a firm mortgage offer will take longer as your lender needs to do a full credit check on you. They’ll want to see your bank statements and credit card bills, along with details of any outstanding loans. 

Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.

How long does a mortgage offer last?

Once you’ve got your mortgage in principle (AIP) offer in place, it should be valid for 90 days. A mortgage offer should last between three and six months, but this will vary between lenders.

How long does a house sale take?

How long is a piece of string? Some house sales happen quickly; others drag on because buyers pull out or get gazumped.

From mortgage offer to completion, you’re generally looking at 12 weeks as a minimum. The longest part is the bit between having your offer accepted and exchanging contracts, which can take anything from a few weeks to a few months. Once you’ve exchanged, it’s usually a fortnight until completion, although this is something you can negotiate.

What happens after a survey on a house?

After your chartered surveyor checks out the property, they’ll send you a report detailing the condition of the house and what they’ve found. If the survey throws you a curveball – subsidence, damp and Japanese knotweed aren’t uncommon finds – then you could use this to your advantage by negotiating a discount on the price. 

How long does it take to move house once your offer’s been accepted?

Again, this will depend on a whole heap of different factors, not least who you’re buying from and how reliable they are. Good communication is key to hurrying up the process, so make sure you keep your solicitor and estate agent on speed dial.

The content written in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as financial advice. If you require support on the products discussed here, please speak to your bank/lender or seek the advice of an independent professional financial advisor. We also have more information on our Customer Support Hub.

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Alex Hasty - Insurance comparison and finance expert

At Compare the Market, Alex has had roles as Commercial Associate Director, Director of Trading and Director of Growth. He’s currently responsible for the development and execution of Comparethemarket’s longer-term strategic options, ensuring the right breadth of products and services that meet customer needs.

Learn more about Alex

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