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Buyer checklist: how to buy a house in a busy market

From mortgage deals to insurance, here's everything you need to know

Looking for advice on how to buy a house? You’ve come to the right place.

It’s no secret that the housing market has been incredibly busy in recent months. The stamp duty holiday combined with buyers looking for more space during the lockdown has created a huge demand across our websites, we have seen over a 500% uplift in visitors compared to this time last year (Countrywide Research) and many experts predict that the market could remain competitive for some time. 

For buyers, things are tense, so below, we’ve compiled a helpful step-by-step guide to give you the best possible chance to secure your dream home and ensure your purchase is as stress-free as possible.

1. Find a great mortgage deal

In the past, a deposit would need to be at least 10% of the asking price. If you’ve saved £20,000, then you could look for a house valued at up to £200,000. However, recent months have seen the mortgage market becoming more competitive as lenders have introduced new deals consistently, creating a favourable market for borrowers. 

Looking for the best mortgage deals around? Our recent article ‘95% Mortgages are Back’ has everything you need to know.  

Top tip: remember to factor in additional costs like solicitor fees, mortgage fees, survey costs and buildings insurance. As your local property experts, we’re always here to help support you and offer advice on moving costs.

2. Organise a mortgage in principle

This is an estimate of how much you could potentially borrow from a bank or building society. Bear in mind it’s not a formal mortgage offer but it means you can show agents that it’s likely you’ll be able to afford the property you want to buy.

You can get this directly from a bank, or from a broker who would have a view of deals across the market. If you need to arrange a mortgage we can help through our associated company Countrywide Mortgage Services*. They can compare thousands of mortgage deals from a panel of high street and specialist lenders.

3. Identify an up and coming area

When searching for a new home, it’s important to look beyond the four walls of the property. 

One way to get ahead and make the market work for you is to find a part of town that is affordable yet offers an increasing amount of amenities due to a new demographic of people moving into the area. 

According to our property expert, Toby Phillips, the top four signs you should look out for in an up and coming area;

  • Young professionals are a great indicator of potential growth. If you can spot people in their twenties and thirties choosing a specific area, it's almost inevitable that local house prices there will increase.
  • New delicatessens, pubs, restaurants and independent coffee shops suggest that there is new demand in the area from people with disposable income. 
  • Nearby public transport links that give local residents access to schools, workplaces and central locations will inevitably attract more people to the area. 
  • Regeneration can greatly improve the quality of life in a specific area. Chances are if money is being pumped into a neighbourhood, the house prices there are likely to grow.

4. It's advisable to find a good agent

Our estate agents are there to make your buying process as simple and smooth as possible. They can provide you with daily updates of new properties, and if you pop down to your local office, they can give you advice and tips on the local area.

You should plan for multiple property viewings. Do your research and get to know the local market really well. If you need a little extra area advice, talk to your agent.

There’s no time like the present, why not start looking now?

5. Make an offer

Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, it’s time to make an offer. Think carefully about what you would be willing to pay, if you go too low you risk not being seen as a serious buyer, so make sure your offer is realistic. Equally, don’t go in too high and miss the mark completely. Remember your estate agents will be on hand to help to support you through the offer process.

6. What happens after you’ve made an offer?

Well, this can go one of two ways. The estate agent will call you back and tell you that your offer has been accepted. In this case, it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief and move on to step 7. If not, you might want to repeat the process again with a higher offer. Again, our agents are able to do all the negotiations on your behalf.

7. Arrange a mortgage

Your mortgage in principle (step 2) usually expires after 30 or 90 days (depending on the lender) so  Countrywide Mortgage Services will be able to keep an eye on the best deal for you once you are ready to proceed.

They have access to thousands of mortgages covering high street and specialist lenders, and its Mortgage and Protection Consultants will be on hand to help find the most suitable mortgage for you. Take a look at our mortgage deals.

8. Hire a property solicitor called a conveyancer

Once you've had your offer accepted and confirmed your mortgage, it's time to think about who you want to handle the legal side of things. A conveyancer will take charge of conducting searches, liaising with the seller’s conveyancer, inspecting the seller’s documents, dealing with the Land Registry and all that fun stuff. This role is critical to keeping your house purchase on track so do your research.

Have a look at Countrywide Conveyancing Services, which just so happen to be one of the largest transactional conveyancing companies in the UK. 

9. Get a survey

Sorted your mortgage and conveyancer? Great.

It’s survey time. A survey isn’t compulsory, but it’s definitely advisable. If you don’t get one and you come across unforeseen structural issues once you’ve bought the property, it would just be hard luck. Don’t be one of those people that rely on the mortgage valuation or you might find yourself forking out thousands of pounds later down the line. Give yourself peace of mind by having a survey conducted.

The HomeFact Report, RICS HomeBuyer Survey, RICS HomeBuyer Survey & Valuation and the RICS Building Survey are your main options. If you’re wondering about which survey suits you best, take a look at our survey information for a simple breakdown of each.

If you’d rather speak to someone directly, contact our support team on 0161 401 2917.

10. Arrange buildings insurance

How important is buildings insurance? Well, take this example - as soon as the contracts are exchanged, you’re legally bound to buy the property. If the building were to burn down the day before completion and you weren’t insured, you’d have to pay every penny of the sale price yourself, that's why for many lenders it's a requirement for you to have building insurance prior to completion. Also whilst you’re browsing all things insurance, you may want to consider contents insurance to protect your belongings as well. Explore your insurance options.**

11. Set the completion date

This is the date that you’ll finally move into your new home. Completion usually takes place between one and four weeks after you’ve exchanged contracts. During this time, it might be an idea to find a trustworthy removals company to help get you moving.

12. Exchange contracts and sign the transfer deeds

You’re almost there! Your deposit will now be sent to the seller’s solicitor, along with the contracts that you signed. Your solicitor will prepare the transfer deed. Make sure you sign it in the presence of a witness. It confirms you're willing to take ownership of the property.

Once this is complete it means you’re legally bound to purchase the house. Time to put the champagne on ice and celebrate!

13. Completion

You did it. You’re officially a new homeowner – collect the keys and let yourself in. You can now look forward to making the house a home! If you’re interested in home improvements read our latest article ‘How to REALLY boost the value of your property.'  

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*Mortgages available through Countrywide Mortgage Services. A fee will be payable for arranging your mortgage. Your consultant will confirm the amount before you choose to proceed. Countrywide Mortgage Services, Countrywide House, 6 Caldecotte Lake Business Park, Caldecotte Lake Drive, Milton Keynes, MK7 8JT

** Cover is underwritten by AXA Insurance UK plc, Registered in England No: 78950. Registered Office: 5 Old Broad Street, London,EC2N 1AD. AXA Insurance UK plc is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority under Financial Services register number 202312. This can be checked on the Financial Conduct Authority’s website at www.fca.org.uk/register.