The 10 steps to buying a property: a first-time buyer’s guide to the home buying process

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When a challenge is so complex it feels insurmountable, the answer is to break it down into bite-sized chunks.

Buying a first home is certainly a challenge. But if you take it step by step you will be on your way to following the 353,436 first-time buyers who clambered on to the property ladder last year.

From working out where to buy and getting all your financial ducks in a row, to how to house hunt and what happens once you’ve found the perfect home, just follow these 10 steps to property success:

1. Choose a location

Finding the right home to match your budget is the first priority. You may have to be flexible and consider uncharted territory. Now is the time to start exploring. Homes get cheaper the further you move down the train line. For example, if your dream location is Putney, you will find better value in nearby Southfields.

Locations with transport improvements on the horizon tend to be good for future price rises – when Crossrail opens next summer, prices along the line may well experience a nice bounce. Regeneration zones such as Royal Docks, Brent Cross and Cricklewood also have future potential. And homes on the London Overground tend to be better value than those on the Tube, so don’t ignore the orange line on the network map.

2. Count your pennies

Once you’ve got a plan about where you’d like to live – and how local prices stand – you need to work out how you are going to pay for your new home. You need to know how much you are likely to be able to borrow, how much you will need for a deposit, and how long it will take you to save up. Use Virgin Money’s Home Buying Coach app to help you do the maths.

It will work out how much you need to save each month to achieve your goal, and will track your progress until you are ready to buy. It will also talk you through the different types of mortgage out there, and which will be best for you.

3. Saving up

The Bank of Mum and Dad is still a huge player in raising a deposit to buy a new home. Time to have a conversation with the family about what, if anything, they are able to contribute.

Banks increasingly want evidence you’ve saved up yourself so you are going to have to make economies: after months spent going running during lockdown, perhaps you can do without a gym membership for now, while cycling or walking to work will save a fortune in season tickets.

Taking a packed lunch to work can slash your spending, too. If you can move to a cheaper rental, or move in with family while you’re saving for a deposit, then do. It won’t be forever. And make a socialising budget and stick to it.

4. Be prepared

When you are close to your financial target you must do your groundwork. Be a perfect buying candidate by making sure your credit rating is good – the Home Buying Coach will show you how. You should also line up a solicitor and a surveyor, seeking recommendations from friends.

Mortgage companies will ask for plenty of paperwork and it’s worth collecting it up: proof you are a UK resident (a passport), at least three months’ worth of bank statements and pay slips, or two years’ of audited accounts if you are self-employed.

Most also want at least one utility bill in your name at your current address, and your presence on the Electoral Roll. With this all ready you can apply for a mortgage offer in principle, basically a pledge to lend to you as and when you find a property, which will convince estate agents and vendors that you are a serious bidder when the time comes.

5. House hunting

Register with the main property portals and set up alerts when a home in your price range goes on sale. But don’t leave it there. Face time and regular phone calls with local agents are vital to keep up to date with new instructions – the best homes are often sold before they ever go online.

Before you go and see a property, check online how much similar homes nearby have sold for. This will give you an idea of whether the asking price is reasonable.

Take a list of questions with you so you don’t forget anything vital, for example: how long is the lease, how much is the ground rent, how good is the wifi. If you are chain free and have a mortgage offer, make sure the vendor knows.

6. Making an offer

See a property at least twice before making an offer. Unless you have evidence that it is really overpriced, don’t start off with a really cheeky offer which will only alienate the vendor. Homes in London typically sell at about 95 per cent of their asking price, so you can negotiate a bit. Make your offer to the agent, in writing, and stressing your chain-free mortgage-ready status.

7. The small print

If your offer is accepted it is still not quite time to pop open the prosecco. This is when your lawyer should swing into action, going through the lease for any problems, ordering council searches and booking in a survey. Don’t just leave them to it. Call regularly to check on progress to keep them on the case – we’re talking every couple of days, not every couple of hours!

8. Preparing for the big day

Once you have exchanged contracts you will set a date for the sale to go through – and you have lots to do. You need to inform your landlord you are leaving, redirect your mail and let your bank, utility companies, the DVLA and phone and broadband suppliers know about your plans.

You should also tell your GP and dentist, book some time off work for the move and plan where your furniture is going to go in your new place. You need to arrange building insurance (your solicitor should help with this) and contents insurance, too. Work out how you are going to move – most first-time buyers can make do with a few car journeys or a hired van. And decide what you urgently need to buy in terms of furniture. Start packing, and have a good declutter at the same time.

9. Completion

This is the red-letter day, when you officially become a homeowner. Make sure you talk to the estate agent and know where and when you are going to be able to collect your keys, and you are all set.

10. Moving day

Pack the things you will need for your first night, including bedding, and keep them apart from the rest of your stuff. That way you will be able to get a decent night’s rest after what will inevitably be a very long day. Book a supermarket delivery for the next day so you don’t have to worry about shopping on top of everything else… and start tackling those boxes.

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