A Brief Guide to Purchasing a Property

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What You Need to Know

  1. It can take up to 11 weeks to complete the purchase of a property. Be sure you do not underestimate how much time your move will take. Do not make any firm plans based on being in your new home until you’re given a completion date by your solicitor.
  2. Whether a property is freehold or leasehold will have a big bearing on your solicitors fees. If you’re interested in a property, make sure you understand which camp it falls into.
  3. Hiring a solicitor as soon as possible can speed things up considerably. Though, you can carry out your own conveyancing, it is not advisable.
  4. Indeed, given the manifold complications involved, many mortgage lenders will insist on having a solicitor involved. If you want to go down the DIY route you may find it harder to borrow and could even find other home owners are less willing to do business with you.
  5. As well as helping you complete, your solicitor will also be able to advise on issues such as any legal liabilities that may come attached to the property.
  6. You’ll usually have to make arrangements for a survey yourself as this will not come under your solicitors remit.
  7. When looking for a surveyor consult the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Buying property is a complicated affair. It can also be an extremely stressful process, especially if you are beset by setbacks and unexpected difficulties.

This concise guide outlines some of the basic points to consider regarding some of the legal and practical aspects of buying a house, and offers some useful advice to make this process as stress-free as possible.

Have you read our guide to properly viewing a property? No? Then click here to read it now.

Have you got your mortgage all sorted out? If not, read our guide to getting a mortgage here.

How do I put in an offer?

Your opening offer will often determine the final selling price, so work out how much you want to spend before you start.

If the house is selling for £90,000 and you can afford to pay £85,000, offer £80,000. If the bid is refused, add £1,000 more at a time until you reach an agreed price.

However, if you genuinely think the house is a steal or undervalued, or in a housing hotspot where you might have competition – act fast. Say then and there that you want it, on condition that the seller takes the house off the market. This makes gazumping – when another buyer comes in with a higher offer – less likely. Say that you'll buy it on condition that a survey is done and the property shows no serious faults. But don't let your emotions get in the way; if you can't strike a deal at a price you want, walk away.

Estimating a Time Scale

Whether you’re buying a house for yourself or you’re expanding an existing portfolio of rental properties, you’ll want some indication of how long the process of purchasing a property is going to take. Once clarified, you can begin to make other important arrangements.

There is no definite answer to how it takes to legally purchase a house. The time from making an offer to actual completion can take up to 11 weeks, although any unforeseen problems could significantly extend this time. It’s often a frustrating position to be in, but the safest option is to be conservative and leave yourself a safe margin of time in which to have everything wrapped up. If you’re making important life plans for you and your family based on being in your new place, it can be a real problem if things start to drag or, as they are prone to doing, the chain you are part of collapses.

Overestimate how long it will take to complete on a purchase to avoid things going on longer than you’d allowed for. This can give you a sense of perspective on what lies ahead before you even start. Once your solicitors are instructed there will still be a couple of months to go before everything is legally settled. Do not make any major commitments, such as taking time off work or arranging the delivery of goods, until your solicitor has confirmed the completion date.

Freehold and Leasehold Properties

Finding out whether a property is freehold or leasehold should always be done before you make an offer.

Put simply, when a property is freehold, the land on which the property stands is included in the sale. If however the property is leasehold, a buyer never owns the land which a property is situated; instead they pay rent to the owner of the land. This is usually the case if you are buying an apartment or flat in a building with other residences. If you’re buying a leasehold property, there is sometimes the option to buy the lease from the owner. For more information on this process, you can contact the Leasehold Advisor Service.

Whether a property is freehold or leasehold will also affect your solicitor’s fees. A leasehold property requires additional work and could be charged considerably more.

Finding a Solicitor

The fundamental process involved in purchasing a property is the transfer of ownership from the owner to the new buyer. This process if referred to as ‘conveyancing’.

It is actually possible to do this process yourself, although it’s not advisable. It’s a complicated procedure and one that requires assistance from someone with extensive knowledge of property law. Taking responsibility for the conveyancing yourself might save a few pounds, but you’re also likely to miss vital information that a trained solicitor would pick up on. Moreover, many lender’s will actually insist on the involvement of a solicitor as part of their agreement with you.

Property lawyers have the experience and essential legal knowledge to deal with this aspect of purchasing a house. Leaving the important legal work to the professionals is going to speed up the process and dramatically reduce the amount of home-buying stress.


Buying a house can make you legally liable for the property, which can become a costly problem as, if a problem arises, it will be down to you to put it right. For example, if it transpires that part of the building work contravenes regulations, you may be forced to make changes you’d never envisioned. Your solicitor will be able to advise you on this, but if the case is complicated you may need to purchase buildings indemnity insurance to protect yourself.

Conducting a Survey

For the majority of us, a property is the biggest investment we will ever make. Yet it is startling how many people refrain from carrying out a full survey before they buy it.

Arranging a survey isn’t part of the legal work that goes into a property purchase, and will not be done by your solicitors. Instead, you'll have to take care of it yourself.

There are many different types of survey available, ranging in detail – and of course, price. As a rule, the older a property is, the more detailed and expensive a survey should be, so that you’re fully aware of any structural issues before you commit to buying.

Though obviously, it can be tempting to skip on this area, you should see it as an investment. It can save your money on repairs in the long run, or, in the short term, you can use any faults that are found to leverage a lower price. We have more detail on this in our guide to the additional costs of buying a house.

When looking for a reputable surveyor, you should consult the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Further Reading


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