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First-Time Buyer Checklist: Your Step-By-Step Guide

Phi Spencer

By Phil Spencer

For most of us, buying a house is the biggest purchase we’ll ever make.

So, it’s little wonder it’s such a daunting process - especially if you haven’t done it before!

When buying your first home, one small mistake can have huge consequences. But, with so much to think about, it’s easy to put a foot wrong.

Let’s ensure that doesn’t happen. Here’s a first-time buyer checklist to help the road to becoming a homeowner run a little smoother.

First-time home buyer guide - is now the time?

First things first, you need to ensure this is the right time to buy. Some things to consider include:

• Can you afford it?
• What’s the state of the housing market?
• How much do you know about the area you’re looking to invest in?
• Are you moving to a new area?

 

The cost of buying a house for the first time

With the property market in its current state, many potential homeowners are put off buying and stick to renting. On top of this, it can be difficult to save money when renting, particularly if you live in London.

But, most of us want to get our foot on the property ladder!

There’s no definite answer for the amount of money you’ll need when buying your first house. It depends on a combination of factors; your location, type of property and the property market at the time you buy, as well as any negotiation over the house price which takes place. There are also some hidden costs involved that are easy to forget about.

So, how much do you need to buy a house? Can you actually afford it? Time to break it down.

Home insurance costs

First-time buyer insurance can be tricky. For many, it’s unknown territory!

But, while it’s an additional expense, it’s a necessary one. It’s un-likely your lender will agree to a mortgage unless you have buildings insurance in place.

Also, bear in mind that insurance isn’t a one-off payment, but an ongoing one. Plus, it can be affected by interest rate rises.

Stamp duty

There’s good news for new home buyers when it comes to buying a property under £300,000… You don’t have to pay stamp duty!

However, for those buying a property over this amount, paying this extra tax is an inevitable part of the first-time buyer process.

To be clear on how much you’ll be paying, use a stamp duty calculator.

Mortgage arrangement fees

An essential piece of help for first-time buyers? Work out which type of mortgage is right for you! There are a number of different types to choose from, so make sure you know what’s what.

If you know what you’re looking for, this can help improve your chances of getting a mortgage.

Remember, your lender may charge a fee. Ensure you compare mortgage quotes beforehand to ensure you’re getting the best deal - this is a top tip for buying a house.

Deposit

There’s no one answer for how much you’ll need to save for a deposit for a house.

But, a rough guideline is that you’re looking at a minimum of 5% of the property value. However, in some cases, this can be as high as 40%.

Can you afford it?

Up-front costs

Buying a house for the first time costs money! Here are some hidden costs that are important to remember…

• Surveyor fees (it’s advisable to get a survey before moving in to a new house - but they aren’t free!)
• Legal fees (solicitors, professional conveyancer fees etc.)
The cost of removals (also consider insurance for your belongings while in transit)

Ongoing costs

After you’ve received the keys and can confidently call yourself a homeowner, you’re now responsible for maintaining your home.

From council tax to utility bills, owning and running a home costs money. Other first-time buyer costs can include furniture, maintenance and decoration of your new property.

Considering all costs together, is this the right time for you to buy a house?

What do you need to buy a house?

If you’ve reviewed your costs and concluded that you can afford it, it’s time for the next step in the buying a house checklist.

Having everything in order will make life a lot easier!

No one knows what’s going to happen to the property market. However, there are some general rules to follow:

Use a mortgage calculator

Can you afford the monthly repayments you’re committing to? This is what a mortgage lender will be looking for.

It’s likely you’ll also need a mortgage deposit!

Have a mortgage agreement in principle

One piece of home buying advice for a first-time buyer is to have an agreement in principle before you start your search.

Knowing how much a mortgage provider will agree to lend you is one of the most important home buying tips.

While nothing is set in stone yet, and there are no guarantees, knowing what you can realistically afford will help you on your house hunt.

Have your finances in order

It sounds simple, but far too many potential homeowners try and buy a property without being prepared.

Getting your finances in order, including your credit history and clearing any debt you can, is an important step on the buying a new home checklist.

Leverage existing schemes

If you need a leg-up to get your foot on the property ladder, there are many government schemes in place to help you. These include:

The Help to Buy Scheme
Buying through shared ownership
Right to Buy

All these schemes have their differences, so ensure you’ve worked out which one is for you.

Property finders

Of course, property portal websites like Zoopla or Rightmove are often the first port of call for those looking to buy a house in the UK for the first time.

But, they shouldn’t be your only point of reference. Consider local estate agents who may not be on the portals but know the area well. Also, seek advice from family and friends who have done it before. If this is your first experience tackling the property market, the more informed at your fingertips - the better!

What to look for when buying a house

Once you’ve finished the planning process, you can start house viewings. This is an exciting step in the home buying checklist.

But, it can also be challenging, particularly if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Put together your own first-time home buyer list. Write down the type of property you’re looking to live in and can afford. Do you want a new build, or an old property that needs renovation?

List your main requirements:

• How many bedrooms do you want?
• Do you want an open plan kitchen?
• Do you want a garden?
• Are you prepared to do some work?

However, be realistic. Remember that it’s not always possible get everything you want for your budget. So, it’s essential you separate your property wants from your needs and are prepared to compromise!

Viewing properties

The key to property viewings is to ask plenty of questions. It’s your money you’re parting with, remember. So, you’ll want as many answers as possible - leaving no stone unturned.

Unsure where to start? There are many questions to ask when viewing a house. Don’t simply consider how long it’s been on the market or whether there’s any other interest. Instead, go deeper. Think about the neighbours, recent building work and the parking situation. Ensure you have the answers to anything that would make you reconsider buying before you part with your cash.

When viewing properties, be thorough. Try and visit the property twice, and at different times of the day. If possible, drive by also!

Taking someone with you, for a second opinion, always helps. They might notice something you’ve missed, such as cracks in plaster on the walls. One of the most important tips for first-time buyers is to look beyond the inside of the property. The outside is important too! Can you see yourself living there and making it your home?

Another important thing to remember is to be polite. You’re likely to get more out of the seller, or the agent, if you’re friendly, rather than interrogative.

If you feel the asking price is high, finding out the answers to certain questions may give you bargaining points. For example, you could ask for certain fixtures to be included in the sale. Plus, knowing any negative factors about the building, such as a poor EPC rating, can help you negotiate the house price lower!

What to check when buying a house

With so much to consider, it helps to break it down. The best way to buy a house is to be thorough. So, have a checklist with you of everything that needs to be in working order.

Here are just a few examples of things to check:

• Doors/ windows
• Plumbing
• Light fittings
• The property structure
• The EPC rating
• The neighbouring properties

Things to consider when buying a house

Where you buy your home is just as important as the property itself. Having the best house on the worst street can cause its own set of problems.

Try not to get too carried away by the property’s appearance. If it’s in a bad location, it could impact your enjoyment of living there.

Researching a new area is essential! Here are some things to watch out for:

Transport links

How important is it for you to be located near your job? If you don’t want a long commute, this will restrict your search area.

Consider all route links and journeys, such as your distance from local schools, friends and family.

But, remember everything has a cost. Living in a well-connected area with many transport links can result in higher house prices.

Nearby amenities

How important is it for you to be close to local amenities? This may include:

• Shops
• Pubs
• Restaurants
• Leisure facilities
• Bars

Ensure you understand whether you want to be in the centre of it all, or if you’re happy to live further out. This an essential tip if you’re wondering how to buy your first home!

Walk around the neighbourhood and see if you like it. Consider the people, whether the area is run down and check out the reported crime statistics.

The more you know about your potential new home, the better.

Guide to buying a house - typical timeline

Once you’ve found that perfect property, it’s time to get the ball rolling!

So, what kind of timeline are you looking at?

Making an offer

If you’ve decided this is your dream property, the next step in the first-time home buyer list is to put in an offer.

The key here is clarity. Put your offer in writing, communicating to the seller exactly how much you’re willing to pay. You should also state any conditions you have, such as the inclusion of any fittings.

Unsure how much to offer? A rough guideline many follow is to deduct around 10% from the asking price.

Your first offer may be rejected. Be prepared for this!

There are definitely reasons for you to increase your offer on a house, as well as an ideal time and place.

Accepted offer

Let’s say you receive good news and your offer is accepted. Before you go any further, you need to run some final checks on the property.

Call a surveyor and visit the property and the neighbourhood one last time. Be certain you want to live there before you part with your money.

Exchange

If the survey checks out, the next step in the buying a house checklist in the UK is the exchange process.

Here, you’ll part with your deposit. In many cases, backing out at this stage results in you losing this money completely. Ensure this is the right property before that happens!

While timings vary widely, the exchange process can take anywhere between 4 and 12 weeks.

Completion

When buying your first house, one word everyone wants to hear is ‘completion’.

This is the final step in the property purchase checklist… Time to swap the rest of the money and receive the keys to your first home!

In most cases, you’re looking at around 14-28 days between exchange and completion. Sometimes, you can exchange and complete on the same day. It entirely depends on the situation.

But, it’s not always that smooth-sailing, as completion can be delayed, sometimes by up to three months. Often, this is pre-agreed, for example in the case of property chains. If you're looking at a new build, you may have compiled a snagging list which is delaying the process.

However, this is the stage you can legally call yourself a homeowner!

First-time buyer’s guide - the move

After years of renting, difficulties getting on the property ladder and the stresses of the buying process - you’ve finally done it.

Now, all you need to do is move in. While this can get costly, there are many ways to save money, including:

Comparing energy tariffs
Getting the right broadband
• Buying second-hand furniture
Comparing removal costs
• Taking meter readings when you move in

Your savings accounts might feel a little emptier, but you finally have the keys to your new home! Congratulations!

One stage it’s essential not to skip in the first-time home buyer guide - The research! Remember, you’re not just buying a property, but investing in your future location. So, you’ll want to know as much as possible. From crime rates to local schools, a property report will tell you everything you need to move with confidence. Get your full report here.

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