How Long Does it Take to Buy a House in the UK?

24th May, 2017

how long does it take to buy a house uk

There is often a great deal of debate on the web on many subjects, but how long it takes to buy a house seems to have a definite consensus: 12 weeks. On the surface that seems remarkably quick, however it is only part of the story. The individual experiences that make that average can vary wildly, but importantly it also excludes an important phase: finding a house you want to buy and having an offer accepted.

So, in the first of our First Time Buyer series of posts, we thought we would look at how long it really takes to buy your first home.

First things, first- you need to find a home. If you have one in mind already- great. If not, browse some properties in Surrey on our search page. If you are interested in selling your home visit The Personal Agent’s property marketing package page.

Phase 1: Finding a House, 12 Weeks

finding a house

This is the one that will probably vary the most. How long it takes to find your first home will depend on a huge number of factors:

  • Where you are looking?
  • What you are looking for?
  • How much work you want to do on the house?
  • How urgently you need to move?
  • If you are prepared to compromise on your wish list?

Everyone wants to beat the market. We would all love to have the ideal location, offering space and privacy with room to expand and all at an affordable price, but realistically these opportunities are very rare. So importantly, your character and what you want out of the house you will be living in for the next five to ten years are very important in finding that house. Understanding and being willing to settle for something that isn’t quite as nice in some ways as you might like, will help you to find something to buy that bit quicker. Some people are happy to overlook those compromise points, others are happy to do some work on the house later, and others want to move into their perfect home. Which category you fall into could impact how long it takes you find somewhere that you are willing to make an offer on. On average it takes 12 weeks to find a new home. To browse properties available for sale in Surrey visit our search a property page.

Of course, once you have found somewhere you need to negotiate. That should take a relatively short amount of time – as long as you don’t try to bargain too hard! Although if you want to bargain, remember to mention that you are a first time buyer.

Now, we know what you’re thinking. “But the whole process is only supposed to take 12 weeks!” Well, actually this is more of an estimate of the time it takes to go from making an offer to moving in. Which just goes to show, you can’t trust everything you read on the internet.

Phase 2: Getting a Mortgage, 4 Weeks

ignite financial services

(we provide an in-house mortgage service through Ignite)

In theory, as you’re dealing with a bank and your solicitor at this stage of the process it should be relatively fixed in its time period. Then at least your will know that there are no holds-ups at your end. You can also make sure the process is already moving by:

  • Choosing a mortgage provider and a solicitor when you start looking for a house
  • Working out how much you can afford to pay each month before going to your chosen bank or building society
  • Getting an Agreement In Principal (AIP) with them before you make your offer

All of this will mean that the bank will have an idea that you are able to afford a mortgage, will have checked out your credit history, and theoretically are happy to lend you the money you will need. It also means that you will be able to move straight into the main application phase.

We did say that in theory this period should be relatively fixed although which type of building survey you need at this point could have an effect:  Building Reports are much more thorough than a Home Buyers’ Survey and Valuation report (HBSV). Some people complain that conveyancing solicitors take much longer than they thought they would. This can be true, but the important thing is not to expect everything to be done in a week. It is also important to make sure that you provide your solicitor and mortgage provider with everything they ask for to make sure the process moves as efficiently as possible.

Phase 3: Exchange of Contracts, 4 Weeks


As you may have guessed, this is finally the point where you and the vendor exchange contracts. The reason that this takes a while is that each party has to go through their conveyances or solicitors. At this point you may find you feel a little out of the loop as both sets of solicitors will be communicating directly. If you experience this then it’s important to note that most solicitors will happily take the occasional call, or failing that speak to your estate agents to do the chasing for you. This is also the time during which your solicitor will check up on the little things, like whether the vendor actually owns the house. The delays here often come from small but significant details: misplacing a title deed, or whether everything is included in that deed – a garage for example may have a separate deed. This is also the point that you will have to pay your deposit, so make sure you have this put to one side to prevent any delays and remember that most direct debit transactions will require several days to process the transfer.

Phase 4: Completing the Sale, 1 Week

Just because you have exchanged contracts, you can’t yet move in to your new home. When you come to sell your home for the first time you will realise that it is only until this point that it is advised to start packing, so while you might be able to move in immediately, the current occupiers will need time to move out. In addition your bank still needs to send across your mortgage, removal men need to be contacted, things packed away without being broken, title deeds drawn up, and all of the other things that make buying a house fun. All of this means that it usually takes about a week between exchanging contracts and exchanging keys.

The Chain

The chain is the bane of house buyers and sellers everywhere. It is also the thing that can perhaps introduce the most variation into the house buying process. As you will be a first time buyer, you don’t need to worry about the chain behind you and so you invariably are the catalysts to move any chain of homebuyers. This is what makes first time buyers so important to the property market. That said, there may be a line of five, six, or perhaps even twelve households in front of the person selling the house you want to move into. Any breakdown in the chain at this point could end your chances of buying the house, and even if everything goes well they all still need to fill out their paperwork, chase their solicitors, and ultimately finish their purchases before you can make yours. This can add a lot of time to the process, usually in Phases 1 or 2.

So, unfortunately we can’t offer you an exact time frame. But we can give you an idea of how long the house buying process should take: about six months from starting to look to moving in. That’s a long time, so don’t worry if things seem to drag a bit. Somebody somewhere should be moving the process forward for you. The good news is that quick moves can occur and if you are in a hurry, informing your estate agents about your urgency will significantly reduce the chances of delays as they will begin searching for appropriate houses.

If you are worried about something taking too long, the best thing you can do is ask. As first time buyers, people don’t expect you to know about everything, so a polite question could help to keep everything going along.


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