How to get on the property ladder in 10 steps

They say that buying a home is one of the most stressful things you can do, especially when you’re doing it for the first time. Property lawyer Fiona McNulty gives the lowdown on the process.

1. Know your budget

To get a sense of how much you can afford, talk to a mortgage adviser

Most estate agents will require proof of your budget, so apply for an “Agreement in Principle” from a mortgage lender.

This involves providing a bank, building society or mortgage broker with your financial details so they can work out how much they will be willing to lend you.

You’ll usually need a 10 per cent deposit, plus a mortgage, which will be a maximum of 4.5 times your salary, or combined salaries if buying with another person.

If you’re buying a new-build, you might be entitled to Help to Buy (an equity loan from the government which can reduce your deposit to five per cent) or shared-ownership (where you buy a percentage of the property and rent the rest, usually from a housing association).

Other significant costs to consider are stamp duty and solicitors’ fees. These will easily add a few thousand pounds to your bill and can’t be added to your mortgage.

2. Research different areas and homes for sale

Find out what’s for sale using a property portal such as Rightmove.

Talk to local estate agents, who will have a lowdown on the market and book a range of viewings in an area so you can compare and contrast.

If you’re buying in an unfamiliar area, visit the property at different times of day and speak to locals to get a better feel for what the neighbourhood is like.

3. How to work out how much to offer 

One-bedroom flats come in all shapes and sizes, so work out the price per square foot and use this to compare with other properties to be sure you’re getting good value.

Also, look at recently sold prices in the area you want to buy in on Land Registry to check you’re paying the right amount.

Many factors will have an impact on the price, from a property’s location to whether it has any outside space.

4. Reduce the risk of gazumping 

Negotiate a price you think is fair. This may be the asking price or a little above or below.

Remember that both you and the seller can pull out, right up until the exchange of contracts, so, to reduce the risk of being gazumped, ask for the property to be taken off the market as soon as your offer is accepted.

This includes removing the property’s details from all the websites where it has been listed.

5. How to choose a solicitor

You’ll need a solicitor to manage your purchase. Ask estate agents, friends or relatives for recommendations and get quotes from three firms.

We recommend you go with the one you think will provide the best service, not necessarily the cheapest.

6. Why get a survey?

It’s important to get a survey to ensure there are no significant problems with the building because it’s your responsibility to discover any defects.

Once you exchange contracts, you will not be entitled to compensation if you discover any problems.

7. Be patient 

It typically takes three months to get all the paperwork in order. 

Keep in regular contact with your solicitor as there may be information you can provide to speed up the process.


Be patient: it can take months before you finally move in to your new home (Shutterstock / lenetstan)

8. What happens when you exchange contracts? 

This is when you transfer your deposit to your solicitor and sign contracts.

Then your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor exchange contracts.

If you pull out of buying the property after exchange of contracts you are not entitled to your deposit back. 

9. Completion 

Your solicitor should now be in receipt of the total balance – both the deposit and the mortgage funds from your lender. 

On the agreed date, your solicitor sends the total balance to the seller’s solicitor. Once they confirm receipt, the keys will be given to you.

10. Paying for your new home 

Your solicitor should register your title to the property and submit a stamp duty return. You’ll have 30 days to pay the full balance.

You should also speak to your solicitor about making a declaration of trust or cohabitation agreement if you have bought with another person. 

This will set out what will happen if you eventually decide to rent out or sell the property.


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