A first-time buyer guide to buying a house

Stipendium has created a comprehensive guide to the cost and time required when buying a home – widely considered one of most important and, often, stressful life events – while providing vital hints and tips on making it easier, faster, and more affordable.


Finding a property 

4 – 36 weeks

It is, of course, possible for the process of finding the right home to go on indefinitely, such is the emotional heft of such a big decision. However, a one to eight-month timeline seems to be the norm although it’s important to note that current market conditions are anything from normal and so homes are flying on the shelves at an incredible pace. This means that while you may act far sooner to secure a property, you may also find this lack of stock results in you waiting far longer before your ideal home comes around.

To speed the process up, it’s best for buyers to be well prepared and have a good knowledge of what their budget can afford in their chosen area. This helps eliminate a lot of potential properties very quickly. As too does a good understanding of location and proximity to vital things such as schools, transport links, workplaces, shops, and restaurants, etc.

Buyers tend to waste a lot of time viewing homes they’re not actually interested in because they think it will help them better understand what they are interested in. It’s better to follow the rule that viewings are only requested for homes that, on paper or online, match all requirements.


Putting in the offer and getting it accepted 

1 day – 2 weeks 

Putting in an offer is quick and easy, but having it accepted can be a drawn out affair. This is because sellers will often want to negotiate, pushing a buyer’s initial offer higher. The buyer will then want to push it lower again, and so the negotiation process goes on. To speed this along, buyers should take the advice of a good estate agent who will know what a reasonable and realistic offer is and if the seller is likely to accept it the first time around.

To reduce this timeline, buyers should make sure they get a mortgage agreed in principle. This means a lender is willing to say that, in principle, they’re happy to lend the required money. For sellers, this is very attractive because it means there is less chance of the sale falling through and also that the process should move along more quickly.


Getting your mortgage set up

2 – 8 weeks / Approx. £1,500

Getting a mortgage approved in principle usually makes it much quicker to turn it into a fully fledged mortgage agreement. This is, by far, the best way of speeding up this part of the journey. The fees associated with setting up a mortgage usually amount to around £1,500.


Conveyancing and Surveys

4 – 12 weeks / Up to approx. £3,000

Conveyancing is an umbrella term for all of the legal processes that must be completed before a house sale can itself be completed. A conveyancer or property solicitor must be hired to conduct the process and they will, among other things, complete searches (Local authority, environmental, drainage, etc), draft contracts, and prove property title ownership.

It can be a very long process, often the longest leg of the journey, especially when the housing market is particularly busy. Ensuring a good solicitor is hired can help speed it up, as can being proactive and getting the process started early rather than waiting until the last minute.

Surveys are essential to the buying process. The mortgage provider will want to conduct their own survey to ensure the property is in the condition as described by the seller. And the buyer should hire an accredited surveyor to ensure that there are no structural issues with the home that the seller has not been forthcoming about. For example, the condition of the roof or severe damp issues. If problems are identified, the seller and buyer can negotiate over price in light of these discoveries. To speed the process up, buyers should commission surveys as soon as they can, booking their surveyor well ahead of time to avoid finding themselves at the back of a long waiting list.

Conveyancing costs between £400-£1,500, while surveys cost up to £1,500.


Exchanging of contracts

2 – 4 weeks

Once all of the legal processes, surveys, and mortgage agreements are complete, it’s time to exchange contracts. This usually happens around two weeks before completion and will be handled by each party’s solicitors.



2 weeks / Approx. £4,000

Finally, after everything, it’s time for completion and moving in. But one important thing still needs to be done and that is paying any required Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT).

The amount payable depends on the sale price of the property, but first-time buyers in England are, currently, exempt from this tax. In England and Northern Ireland, the average SDLT bill is £3,735. In Wales, it’s £3,735. And in Scotland it’s £2,735 for first-time buyers and £3,335 for everyone else. This tax must be paid within two weeks of completion.


Overall estimated timeline

      • Fastest = Roughly three months
      • Slowest = Around a year and two months
      • Average = Eight to nine months


Overall costs

      • Up to £8,500 (Property not included)


Christina Melling, CEO of Stipendium, commented:

“Buying a home can be a long, expensive, and stressful journey, but there are so many ways of reducing the time, cost and emotional impact of your purchase.

“The best place to start is being very well prepared and staying on top of your responsibilities throughout the process. Don’t wait until the last minute to commission surveys, for example, and don’t wait until you’ve made an offer to start the mortgage process.

“But this due diligence still takes an enormous amount of effort and time and not only is this tough to balance with the wider requirements of daily life, but for those buying their first home it’s often impossible to know what’s required and when.

“However, today there are a wealth of resources, such as our Merge platform, that can act as your own complete home purchase assistant. We help you through the journey of buying a house from your initial decision to moving in. The journey is tailored to the house purchase process, so all the information and tools compliment each step of the journey but we’ve also worked to reduce the cost associated.

“For example, the average mortgage broker will charge £500 for their services, whereas you can access all the benefits of the Merge platform for just £395, broker fee included. And we offer free lifetime remortgaging for all of our customers, so it’s well worth checking out what resources are available and how they can save you time and money when looking to buy.”