How long does it take to buy a property?
Reading time: 8 minutes | Posted: 20th Jun 2021
Buying a property is an exciting time for anyone, but it’s also a lengthy process with lots of different stages involved. There is a long list of variables involved, and many of them are outside of your control.
To get an idea of how long it will take, first you need to understand each step of the buying process. While it’s never set in stone, the good news is that every stage has an average timeline that will give you a good idea of what to expect.
Let’s take a look at each in turn to see how long it takes to buy a property in the UK (plus a few tips to help you speed things along).
If you are yet to have found your new home, then this stage is likely to take the longest. A lot of factors involved in house hunting simply boil down to luck. While some people are fortunate enough to find an ideal property (and have their offer accepted) right, for others it can take months. For that reason, the national average is fairly broad at 6 to 12 weeks.
Not only is there the issue of finding a property that suits your needs, but also competing offers and the potential for any number of things to go wrong before the sale goes through. This step is often the most stressful for buyers as there tends to be a fair bit of uncertainty and waiting around for answers.
Naturally, you can expect this process to take longer if you are looking to move somewhere with fewer properties available (for example, a rural area as opposed to a city). At times where lots of people are looking to buy, you may also find that there’s more competition and you may get several offers rejected before finding the right home.
Once you’ve found your new home, getting a mortgage in place is the next port of call. First up is the mortgage in principle, which is essentially a statement from the mortgage provider that they will lend you a certain amount of money. This can be done quickly, and can normally be arranged within 24 hours.
Unfortunately, getting the actual mortgage takes significantly longer. This is because it involves a lot of different checks and a lot of information being processed. As a result, you are looking at an average timeline of 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the strength of your application and your financial position.
You can help speed things up by making sure you have all the required documents in place (ideally when you’re still at the house hunting stage). Having a mortgage broker can also help, as they are familiar with the process and usually with what each lender requires. This could not only save you time but can also make the process far less stressful as they deal with everything on your behalf.
This is the step where the property is legally transferred from the seller to you. During this stage, a licensed conveyancer (a specialist property solicitor) will complete all the legal paperwork, carry out Land Registry and local council searches, draft the contract and handle the exchange of money.
How quickly this gets done is largely dependent on the solicitor you choose and how early you get them lined up. As there are lots of different elements to the conveyancing process, you need a solicitor who is going to be proactive in moving things along on your behalf. Typically, this stage will take between 8 to 12 weeks, making it one of the lengthier parts of the process.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you can always ask the estate agent for advice. They deal with solicitors day in, day out, and will have a good idea of which are the most efficient. Once you have their suggestions, you can also do a little online research to find out how previous clients found their service. There are specialist review sites geared towards solicitors, and at the very least there should be a few Google reviews for you to look at to get an idea of how they operate.
The conveyancing stage is also hugely impacted by the circumstances of both you and your seller. For example, if the seller is not buying another property for whatever reason (moving to rented accommodation, moving in with a partner etc), then there is one less party in the chain to slow things down. Generally speaking, the bigger the chain, the greater the risk of delays occurring.
It’s worth bearing in mind that if you buy a leasehold property you can expect the conveyancing stage to take longer. As the property the land is built on is owned by someone else, there is some additional paperwork and legal requirements to be dealt with which means more work to be done.
In this case, your solicitor will ask the leaseholder for a Leasehold Management Pack that will outline historical management accounts, ground rent and service charge accounts and receipts of payments as well as general information about the property.
There is a fee for this pack, and delays can often happen when the payments are not made quickly. If your solicitor needs any additional information or to ask any questions, this can also slow things down. Because of this, if you are buying a leasehold property you will want to add at least 2 weeks onto your property buying timeline.
While it’s not technically required to carry out a survey when buying a property, it’s highly recommended that you do. Your mortgage lender will have surveyed the home for valuation purposes, this does not protect you if there turns out to be something wrong with the property.
There are three types of survey available that vary in scope (and cost) and the timeline will be affected by which one you choose. If it turns out that there are repairs that need doing before you move in, this will also extend the timeline significantly. Alternatively, you can always ask for a reduction in price and get the repairs done once your sale has completed.
Once the survey has been completed, you should always give it to your solicitor to take a look at. This may add more time to the process, but it’s one area that you certainly shouldn’t rush to avoid any disasters in the long run.
If everything goes to plan, this needn’t delay your purchase by much. The survey can be carried out while the conveyancing is underway. However, as there is a fee involved, it’s always worth waiting to do it after your mortgage has been approved.
Once all the documentation and payment is in place, it’s time for your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor to exchange signed copies of the contracts. This is a real milestone in the property buying process, as it means there is now a legally binding agreement between you and the seller. This means that neither party can back out without consequences.
Exchanging contracts doesn’t have a timeline as such, as it really marks the end point of the legal side of the sale. However, it’s good to note that exchanging contracts typically happens between 1 and 4 weeks prior to completion. In certain circumstances, this can be a matter of days (or even on the same day as completion). Once your mortgage is finalised and all fees are paid, you’ll be handed the keys to your new property.
As you can see, there are no hard and fast rules for how long it takes to buy a property. Even when you’ve had an offer accepted, there is also a long list of legal requirements, documents and processes to take into consideration.
It’s also worth noting that the time it takes to buy a property can also change depending on what’s going on in the market. For instance, when stamp duty was suspended in 2020, a large influx of buyers meant that the process took around a month longer than average. No matter the circumstances, by choosing your solicitor and surveyor wisely, doing your research and getting your paperwork in order, you can significantly speed things up.
Every situation is different, so it’s important to go in with an open mind. However, generally speaking, from starting your house hunt to moving in you can expect it to take a minimum of 17 weeks (with 20 to 25 weeks being the more likely scenario).
If you have already found a property, then you are looking at an average timeline of 16 weeks, or as few as 12 if you are incredibly lucky. In the UK, the property buying process is far from speedy, but it will all be worth it in the end when you’re settled in your new home.Share this: