Posted 10 May 2022

First Time Buyer Checklist

buy / checklist / house

If you’re thinking about buying your first home but not sure where to start, feel free to use my first time buyer checklist template below.

I can share plenty of tips for buying a house. It feels like a daunting financial commitment at times, but support is available.

For instance as of 2021, the number of Help to Buy offers – providing more than £20 billion in equity loans – had never been higher.

Here is my guide to buying a house if you’ve never gone through the process before – and the first thing to plan for, on any first time buyer checklist, is your budget.

1. Make a financial plan

The more you can put into your deposit, the less you’ll need to borrow as a mortgage loan (and therefore, your monthly repayments will be lower too). The minimum required is almost always 5% of the price you pay for the property – unless a family member will support you, in which case there are some guarantor mortgages that allow a 0% deposit.

Work out approximately how much you can borrow based on your annual income and any guaranteed bonus – online calculators give you an indication. Also check if you can use one of the government schemes to help first time buyers e.g. the recent First Homes initiative.

Browse property prices in the area you have in mind, for the size of property you’re looking for, to see what you can afford. Factor in some extra costs too – for surveyor fees, legal fees and so on.

2. Get a mortgage Agreement In Principle (AIP)

This is proof from a mortgage lender of how much you could borrow, thinking ahead to when you make an offer.

Once you have an appointment with an adviser, they’ll analyse your income and outgoings, as well as running a credit check, to confirm the lending amount. 

You’ll usually need to bring with you:

  • Last three months’ payslips (it’s longer if you’re self-employed)
  • Last three months’ bank statements
  • Any credit commitment details
  • Proof of address
  • ID
  • P60 (if you have one)

It’s a good idea to compare a few different lenders, as their deals or interest rates will vary.

3. Find your new home

Now for the fun part – it’s time to start searching! Browsing through a whole host of beautiful properties online, going to viewings and wondering if the home you’re seeing could be yours.

Have a think about the area you’d like to live in and what your key property criteria are when you’re browsing. Make a list of any questions you want to ask when you’re shown around – common ones include:

  • How long has the property been on the market for?
  • Has the property been renovated?
  • What’s included in the sale?
  • Why is the seller moving?
  • What is the area like?
  • What are the neighbours like?
  • What is the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating?
  • Is there a chain?

When buying a flat, also ask:

  • How many years are left on the lease?
  • How much is the service charge?

Looking for a helping hand to find your new home? That’s what we’re here for

4. Make an offer

Any property you see will have an asking price – it’s up to you whether you wish to match it, go higher, or go lower when making your first offer.

Just bear in mind that other buyers will likely also be making offers at the same time. If your first offer is rejected, decide if you want to increase it or move onto another property.

One advantage you have as a first time buyer is that you’re ‘chain-free’, i.e. you don’t need to sell another property before moving. In contrast, other buyers you’re up against may have to find someone to purchase their old home first before they can afford to pay, lengthening the sale process. 

Therefore, making an offer as a first time buyer can be a clincher if the seller receives two similar offers.

5. Offer accepted!

Start getting excited! You’ve seen off the competition and the property is yours… As long as the next steps go according to plan.

Technically, the sale won’t be legally binding until the exchange of contracts  a little further down the line (check out our blog on what can hold up exchange of contracts to read more about this). Still, this is a major milestone and one to be proud of – it’s a job well done. 

The estate agent should take the property off the market without delay. Meanwhile, there are a few more things to start preparing on your side.

6. Apply for your mortgage formally

Thankfully, you’ll save some time at this step because you already have your mortgage AIP. 

Nevertheless, now that there’s a specific home you want to borrow the money for, the lender will want reassurance that the property’s valuation is fair, to minimise their risk.

They’ll send out a surveyor, who will also identify if there are any obvious issues. Assuming all is well, your formal mortgage application will be accepted.

7. Commission your own independent surveyor

To minimise your risk, you can get a more comprehensive report. Make sure that they’re a member of either the RICS or RPSA accrediting bodies.

The three main types of survey are:

  • Level 1 / Condition Report (RICS)
  • Level 2 / HomeBuyer Report (RICS) or Home Condition Survey (RPSA)
  • Level 3 / Home Survey (RICS) or Building Survey (RPSA) 

Which service is right for you will depend on the age and condition of the property. Minor issues are common but as long as there’s nothing major, it’s over to your solicitor.

8. Legal transfer

Next up on my first time buyer checklist is the general legal transfer process.

Compare prices and reviews for property solicitors or conveyancers – you may find that one with local knowledge will be more familiar with the area, neighbourhood or building itself.

A conveyancer acts as the intermediary between you, the seller and your mortgage lender.

It’s their job to review legal documentation, carry out various checks and conduct essential searches – such as local authority as well as environmental, water and drainage searches.

9. Exchange contracts

Once your conveyancer has fulfilled their obligations and settled any outstanding queries, you’ll be given the documents you need to sign.

The seller will sign their copies too, then the solicitors exchange contracts, with each party signing again. 

This process means you’ll become the new legal owner of the property. At this point you’ll also pay the deposit and agree on a set completion date.

10. Pay the deposit

One of the most important steps on any first time home buyer checklist, paying the deposit – usually this happens on the same day of the contract exchange.

It’s another personal milestone in your life as it may be one of the largest transfers you’ll ever make! So it’s worth taking care and planning ahead.

You may need to make multiple transfers if your bank has a daily limit. Also, be vigilant and watch out for ‘Friday fraud’ phishing.

11. Confirm completion date

This will be a specific day you negotiate with the seller to finish the transaction and pick up your new keys. 

The date would usually be within the next month. It may depend on if the seller is in a ‘chain’, in which case there may be a delay on their side.

At this stage in my first time buyer guide, please keep in mind one important tip. Although it may be possible – or seem tempting – to rush things by planning to exchange and complete on the same day, it’s rarely recommended as you’ll usually need a bit more time.

12. Pay completion statement and stamp duty

Your conveyancer will also provide you with the completion statement to pay, including their fees and stamp duty land tax (SDLT).

The threshold for stamp duty begins at £125,000 for residential properties and £150,000 for non-residential properties.

As a first time buyer, since July 2021, the current rule (in England, not the rest of the UK) is that there’s no SDLT to pay on the first £300,000 of a property costing £500,000 or less. 

13. Plan for the big day

Decide how much stuff you’re taking with you and how to transport it. You may just need a couple of trips in the car, but usually you’ll need a ‘man and van’ or removal company.

Declutter if you can. Start packing well in advance, so you’re not in a rush on moving day! 

Notify everyone you need to that you’re leaving – the council, utilities companies and so on.

Work out what you need in your new home and start booking appointments. For example, it can take a while to get time slots for broadband providers to set up your WiFi network, for a cleaner, or for new furniture to be delivered.

For more information about how to prepare to move into a new property, read our moving house checklist guide.

14. Complete!

On the day of completion, your conveyancer ensures that the mortgage lender’s loan is transferred to the seller’s solicitor. 

In turn, the seller’s solicitor confirms receipt and authorises the estate agent to release the keys to you, all on the same day.

Final tasks for your conveyancer include logging the change of ownership formally with the Land Registry, as well as the signed property deed and your mortgage deed.

15. Move in 

You’re nearly there! It’s the final step on my first time buyer checklist, but the actual moving in bit needs a little planning too.

Make a ‘first day’ kit, full of things you can find easily when you arrive at the property without needing to fully unpack – kitchen and bathroom supplies, phone chargers and so on.

Pick up the keys to your first new home, open the front door and before finding spaces for all your belongings, check the inventory and make sure everything’s as it should be. Take the meter readings and plug in any major appliances like the fridge.

Check you know how to use the heating and stove, but don’t worry if you’re too tired to cook – if ever there was a time for a takeaway, it’s moving-in day! Similarly, if you’re too exhausted to unpack, that’s what your first day kit is there for.

Summary: first time buyer checklist

Your first property purchase is something you’ll never forget and there’s a lot to think about, so I hope you found my first time buyer checklist helpful.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so take your time and explore all routes/options. Getting that first foot on the property ladder is well worth the wait.

If you’re putting together your own personal first time buyer’s checklist, or you’d like to start buying your first home, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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