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How long does the house buying process take?

Kim Staples
Written by  Kim Staples
Jonathan Leggett
Reviewed by  Jonathan Leggett
5 min read
Updated: 08 May 2024

There’s a lot of steps involved in buying a house, and the process can take a while. If you’re a first-time buyer in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, this guide will take you through the timeline you can expect at each stage.

All in all, the entire process – starting from assessing what you can afford, and ending with stepping through the front door of your new home – typically takes around six months or more.

It can take longer depending on factors, such as:

  • How quickly you, the seller, and your solicitors can move things along

  • What kind of property you want

  • Your financial situation

  • The chain on your chosen property

  • The state of the property market

It’s also worth noting that house purchases in Scotland tend to operate on a different timeline, and that it may be different if you’re in the middle of a chain as opposed to a first-time buyer.

As a point of reference, this writer bought a property with no chain as a first-time buyer in 2023 – a very quick and easy transaction with no major complications – and the entire process took six months. The timeline of the conveyancing process, between an offer being accepted and completion of the sale, was four months on the dot.

Let’s look at what you can expect from each stage in more detail.

1. Starting your search

Takes 1-4 weeks

The first step is to figure out your finances, compare mortgages or engage a mortgage advisor, get a mortgage in principle (MIP), and get a handle on what kind of properties you’d like to look at.

Each individual task can be done quite quickly, but getting the ball rolling, gathering your paperwork together, and arranging any appointments can stretch things out by a few weeks.

Arranging a mortgage in principle isn’t necessarily required at this stage, though it’s very useful and often recommended. It confirms how much you can borrow and shows sellers you’re serious about buying – which can help get your offers accepted. You’ll need to set aside some time to gather your documents together for this (you’ll need payslips, proof of savings, and so on), but once you’ve applied, your MIP can be with you within 24 hours.

You can also start viewing properties whenever you like.

2. Making an offer

Takes 1-3 months

The next stage is arranging with estate agents to view properties, then making an offer when you find one you like.

The timeline from starting your search to having an offer accepted can depend on a few things, such as what you’re looking for, how competitive the properties you like are, your financial situation, and how often you’re able to arrange viewings. Depending on the market, you may also need to make offers on multiple properties before one is accepted.

You can expect this stage to take a month if things can move quickly, but be prepared for it to take longer… not least because buying a home is a big decision that you’ll want to take your time on.

3. Conveyancing

Takes 2-6 months

When your offer is accepted, it’s time to get conveyancers or solicitors on board to get the purchase going.

You can get a quote from a conveyancer and have them start working on you case within a few days. But the total conveyancing process, from engaging them through to the sale’s completion, will take a few weeks or months. There’s a lot to sort out, and a lot of back and forth between the buyers’ and sellers’ solicitors even for a fairly straightforward sale.

It’s difficult to say exactly how long this process will take, as it depends on the complexity of the sale and the timings of the whole chain. Anticipate around six months – though it could be longer if there are complications, or could even be as short as two months for an easy purchase.

In the meantime, you can get everything else sorted out too…

4. Getting a survey done

Takes 1-2 weeks

While conveyancing is underway, you’ll want to arrange a homebuyers’ survey.

The timeline here, from getting quotes from surveyors to having a completed report, is usually between a week and a month. It often depends on the surveyors’ schedule, and when their visit to the property can be arranged with the current occupants.

5. Finalising the offer and mortgage

Happens 1-4 months after offer is accepted

Another key step is to get an official mortgage offer letter from your chosen lender. Before you can get that, you need to have a few things in place, including finalising the offer to the seller. That includes:

  • Any renegotiations as a result of conveyancing checks

  • Any renegotiations as a result of your homebuyers’ survey

  • Extras, such as furniture and fittings that will come with the house (e.g. many sellers include white goods with the sale or offer them to you cheaply)

  • Gathering the rest of your documents

  • Both sets of solicitors sending all the documents and letters needed

This is all part of the conveyancing process, and could happen any time between about one and four months after your offer is accepted.

But once everything is in place, finalised, and submitted to your hopeful mortgage provider, a mortgage offer can be with you very quickly – usually just a few days.

6. Exchange and completion

Happens 2-6 months after offer is accepted, with 1-2 weeks between exchange and completion

Once all the above is dealt with, you’re just waiting on the final bits of admin, and for everything to settle on the rest of the chain on your property. Then, it’s time for the final stage: the exchange of contracts, and completion of the sale.

It takes a while to get to this point, but you’ll then only need to wait a week or so between exchange and completion themselves. Again, it could be much quicker for a simple purchase (as quick as the same day in some cases), or much longer for a more complex one (up to two or three weeks if there’s a long chain to sort out).

7. Beyond completion

Takes 1-6 months

After completion, the house is officially yours and you get the keys in your hand. But there’s still a bit of paperwork left to do. You’ll need to:

  • Pay stamp duty

  • Register your ownership

  • Get the title deeds

Everything is arranged by your solicitors. Expect this documentation to take up to six months to come through, as some organisations (such as local councils) can be quite slow moving.

But don’t worry – there’s no hurry on any of this besides paying stamp duty. Your home is legally yours, and you can move in, sort your energy and broadband, and use it as your primary address.

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