20 must-read tips before buying a home

Home viewing, buying and moving advice sourced from property experts

Appointing a responsible mover and interpreting an estate agent’s sales spiel is all part and parcel of moving house. What you didn’t anticipate was the threat of an 80-year lease, chains, the Mortgage Marketing Review and ‘Caveat Emptor’.

But, worry not. We’ve spoken to the experts, from removers and brokers, to estate agents and solicitors, to jargon-bust the whole home move process. You’ll know what to expect, from start to finish, and when to raise a red flag and charge into battle.

It might get emotional, you may get tingly palms and your to-do list will certainly be a lot longer by the end of this, but it will ensure your perfect day, so let’s dive in!


  • Section One: Secure a mortgage
  • Section Two: House hunting
  • Section Three: Surveys, reports and solicitors
  • Section Four: Moving and removals

Section One: Secure a mortgage

1.Put your finances on a diet

Before you secure a mortgage, you must go through rigorous checks brought in as a result of the Mortgage Market Review (MMR). Using affordability criteria, lenders will thoroughly evaluate and ‘stress-test’ your financial health and ability to pay back the mortgage, if interest rates rise. It’s not just your income under the microscope, but your wider spending habits too, so cut back on luxuries and reduce expensive debt where possible. For the first time, Experian’s ‘Rental Exchange’ takes rental payments into consideration to strengthen credit histories, which is great news for the 1.7 million renters in the UK saving for a deposit.

2. Make an estimate

Once your mortgage has been agreed, Jeremy Morcumb from the Mortgage Advice Bureau Swindon recommends that buyers: “Establish all associated costs such as solicitors, stamp duty, surveys, arrangement fees, broker fees and removal costs upfront. Always think ‘how much can I afford to spend on a new mortgage, including insurance?’”

There are numerous digital calculators that will help you break down the cost. This detailed calculator anticipates the cost of a Full Structural Survey versus a HomeBuyer Report, how much you’re selling your home for and how many bedrooms you want, revealing an approximate stamp duty, legal fee, survey fee, estate agent fee and removal fee in one place.

3. Meet mortgage advisers with contacts

“Mortgage lenders change the deals regularly so make sure your broker has access to a wide range of lenders. The Mortgage Advice Bureau Swindon use over 90 Lenders and 11,000 mortgage products, for example, including exclusive deals,” says Jeremy. If you choose an opportunity-seeking broker, they will educate, support and guide you all the way to completion. “Consider an independent broker, aside from the estate agent’s choice, as they are more likely to look after your interests.”

4. Bring documentation

There are a few basic necessities you’ll need for every mortgage meeting, Jeremy advises: “It’s essential to take three months of payslips or three years SA302’s with corresponding tax overview (if self-employed). Bring three months of bank statements proving salary, income and household bills, passport or driving licence, and finally a proof of deposit.” In some cases, brokers may also ask for P60s too.

5. See a financial adviser first if you’re concerned

Mary Dobson had an interesting experience obtaining a mortgage in 2015: “Don’t apply for mortgage until you get a financial adviser to help you. We paid our debts off to improve our credit, but to be on the safe side we decided to visit a financial adviser before going to the bank. They recommended a bank that might work with us and we did manage to get a mortgage with them. Although the adviser didn’t mention anything about how children change the outcome. Our bank mortgage adviser decided to breeze over our two children, who if included would limit our options.”

6. Prove you’re approved

Secure an ‘Agreement in Principle’ (AIP, or sometimes ‘Decision in Principle’ DIP). It’s a certificate that confirms a mortgage of a particular value has been approved, in theory, thanks to some basic details provided. All responsible estate agents will check that you have been initially approved prior to making an offer. Remember, a straightforward application can take up to two weeks and more complicated applications can take longer.

Section Two: House hunting

7. Go outdoors

Property portals, such as Rightmove, instantly alert you when the house, flat or farm of your dreams emerges on the market. Sign up and keep your eyes glued to email notifications, but hit-up local estate agents in person too. Conveniently located in desirable locations on busy high streets, with more footfall than available homes, not all agents will advertise their properties on Rightmove or Zoopla.

8. Time is of the essence

“Be prepared to view property on the back of a phone call from the estate agent and view the property at your earliest convenience to avoid disappointment,” says Mark Noble from Castles Residential Sales & Lettings. Once you have found the ideal property, don’t delay the offer process. Remember that the home you have seen today and are thinking about offering on tomorrow, could well be the same home someone else saw yesterday and is thinking of offering on today.”

9. Ask the agent

Emma Webster, Partner at Humphries Kirk solicitors suggests there are three common problems that hold up a house sale and advises that house hunters should ask their agent about them before making an offer:

  1. If there’s a chain? It’s common, but be aware that more than one buyer and seller involved in the process can hold up the exchange.
  2. Are there any known structural problems with the building? Issues arising from the searches or survey will reveal all anyway, so you may as well save everyone time and money by talking about it now.
  3. Is there a lease on the property? If the property is leasehold and has a lease under 80 years, the value of the property falls dramatically and you may struggle to secure your mortgage.

10. Make a strategic bid

Mark suggests a strategic offer is one that leaves neither side disappointed: “Our best advice is to decide whether you would be upset to lose the property and then offer your best and final price. Remember if you offer too low and upset the vendor they may be reluctant to negotiate with you later on. Prices have been increasing and what you may think to be too high on the perfect house will pale into insignificance if you have to pay a higher price for your second choice home.”

Section Three: Surveys, reports and solicitors

11. Comparing solicitor’s fees isn’t as straightforward as you think

New homeowners Simon and Kira Jones shopped around for a solicitor, but noticed the process could go awry even with the most watertight budget: “We paid around £800, but the quotes we had were sometimes as low as £400, but could shoot up to £1,600. It’s really difficult to compare fees with other firms because some include other fees and expenses in the initial quote, some will be fixed for certain amount of work, or some will be estimates. It’s best to check it all carefully. A big one to check is what you have to pay if the sale falls through.”

12. Pre-sale

A great solicitor can reduce the chances of you losing a property, or inheriting a questionable one. They negotiate the paperwork headache and investigate every possible problem before you sign on the dotted line. Initially they “examine the draft contract and supporting documents, and raise enquiries with the seller’s solicitor. Then they complete relevant legal searches to ensure there are no issues you should be aware of,” says Emma Webster: “If your mortgage arrangements are already in place, the next job on your list should be to get buildings insurance for your new house. In the meantime, your solicitor gets the necessary surveys done.”

13. Mortgage lender’s valuation

Once your offer is accepted, there are three main types of survey you might use as a buyer. The first is the Lender’s Valuation. As the name suggests, it’s for the lender’s benefit, and provides independent confirmation of the home value and any significant damage or problems that could affect the value. If any serious issues come up, the lender may flag them to the buyer, but the buyer won’t necessarily receive a copy of the report (which is usually around two pages long).

14. Rics HomeBuyer Report

According to Which? the HomeBuyer Report is the most popular survey and the standard choice for homes within reasonably good condition. The surveyor will inspect the house and highlight problems such as damp, or work that falls outside of building regulations, but the surveyor won’t poke around under the floorboards or behind furniture. You’ll receive a list of repairs and maintenance, plus a market valuation and rebuild cost. If your house is worth under £250,000 the HomeBuyer Report will cost approximately £350.

15. Full structural

If you’re feeling vintage and purchasing a house more than 50-years old, the Full Structural Survey is the most comprehensive where the surveyor rolls up their sleeves, climbs into the attic, lifts up the floorboards and actively checks the condition and structure of the property. If you’re thinking about doing work, or renovating, it’s a winner because the surveyor will also be able to give you predicted costs. Although this survey costs a little more – for a house under £250,000 you’ll pay approximately £700 – it’s worth its weight in gold should there be any issues.

16. Handing over the deposit

The final hurdle (before the actual move, of course) is signing the contracts and agreeing a completion date. ‘Completion date’ refers to when the property ownership is transferred from the seller to the buyer. The ‘exchange’ is a legally binding contract that fixes the completion date, and obliges the seller to move out of their property. The solicitor will supply a final balance statement, and offer their bank details so you can transfer your deposit into their company account to make the final payment.

17. Completion day

“On completion day the seller should drop the keys at the estate agents for your collection,” says Emma. Moving day won’t be without its hurdles, so book in a time to visit the estate agents to collect the keys after the seller has dropped them off. Sounds obvious, but that last thing you want is multiple fruitless trips to the estate agents when the removal company are bundling up your whole life into a van.

Section Four: Moving and removals

18. Go to the BAR

We’re not talking about solicitors this time, or even encouraging you to indulge in a mid-packing Martini in the kitchen. “When you’re looking for a removal company, make sure to go through a provider that is part of the British Association of Removers (BAR),” says Chris Pearce at Pickfords Removals. “This is a strong indicator of a quality removal company, as all members must adhere to a strict code of practice that ensures a high quality of service.” You should also make sure the company you go through offers comprehensive insurance to cover your goods in transit.

19. Pack a moving survival kit

While going through a professional removal company will make things as hassle-free as possible, it’s still important to be prepared for the worst case scenario. “Pack a moving day survival kit with essentials such as a kettle, some tea, coffee, and biscuits alongside toiletries and a few basic tools, just in case,” suggests Chris.

20. Ask your removal company for a check list

Chris recommends: “To make your move day go as smoothly as possible, ask your removal company for a checklist that covers everything you need to consider throughout the process.” As a final check, breeze through the garden, garage and poke your head up into the rafters for odds and ends you’ve left behind by mistake. Leave a note with your forwarding address on, plus some flowers, to keep the new residents sweet so you can nip back if anything has been left.

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Andrew Allen / Editor

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