Our Blogs

Why does it take so long to buy a house?

“Why does it take so long to buy a house?” is a question we are asked a lot.

The answer can come down to a few or a combination of different factors.  Sometimes the best place to explain why it takes so long to buy a house is to go through the different stages involved in a purchase and how long they’re likely to take (although the estimations here are only very rough estimates based on our experience).

On average, the entire process should take between 6 and 12 weeks to complete once you’ve found your dream home.  This start point is very important.  Finding your dream home is likely to be the longest part of the process.  It can easily take as long as a year depending on your budget and where you want to live.

You should also be prepared that in an active market, you could lose the first home you set your heart on because someone else has made a higher offer or pushed their bid through more aggressively.  This is often referred to as ‘gazumping’.

What are the different stages involved in buying a house?

Once you find the home you want to buy, you’ll need to secure your mortgage.  This should take around 2 to 4 weeks.

This is usually straightforward as long as you have the required deposit and the means with which to repay your loan.  If you need help making your application you can ask a mortgage broker or financial adviser for help.

We would always suggest you secure – or get as close to securing – your mortgage at the start of your search.  This means that when you find your dream home, you can put in an offer immediately.  Your offer will also be taken much more seriously (or, in some cases, only accepted) if it comes with a recognised mortgage provider’s agreement in principle (AIP).

Most lenders will give you your AIP within days of your application and it will usually remain valid for three months.

If you are considering buying a new build, it’s important you discuss the validity of your mortgage.  Unexpected delays can occur on new developments.  You should make sure your lender will continue to honour your mortgage offer in case you need to update your application.

Starting the process: Making an offer

You then need to make an offer.  This usually takes around a week to be submitted, negotiated and accepted.

Making an offer can be daunting, especially if it’s the first time you’ve done it.  It is actually surprisingly easy to do.

All you need to do is call or email your estate agent with your offer and they’ll pass it on to the vendor.  Then you will receive one of three responses over the next day or two.  Your offer will either be accepted, rejected or met with a counter offer.  If it is a counter offer, you will then need to negotiate with the vendor (via your agent) until you reach a mutually acceptable figure.

Many people will make an offer under the asking price.  If you wish to make a lower offer, we’d suggest you clearly outline the reasons to help the vendor understand why you are unwilling to pay the full asking price.

Once your offer has been accepted you need to instruct a conveyancer.  A conveyancer is just another word for a property lawyer … like me!

Our job is to help with the legalities.  We will check out every aspect of the property and supporting paperwork.  We’ll run the required requests for information, look at survey findings, manage the exchange of contracts, and finally, deal with the completion of your purchase.

How long this takes depends on the property, the seller and the specific circumstances surrounding the transaction.  There’s no hard and fast number unfortunately.

With a freehold property, conveyancing can take as little as 6 weeks as the current owner owns the land the property is on.  Leasehold sales will probably take a little longer, perhaps around 10 weeks, because the land is owned by someone else.  They will need to be involved in the sale.

Surveys, exchange and completion

At this point you will need to get a survey done.  This shouldn’t take much more than a week unless the market is particularly busy.

Your survey is a final inspection conducted by an independent RICS certified expert designed to uncover any underlying physical issues with your property.  The scope and cost of the survey you commission will be your choice from these 3 options:

  • Level 1 Survey (previously known as a Condition Report)
  • Level 2 Survey (previously known as a HomeBuyer Report)
  • Level 3 Survey (previously known as a Building Survey)

You are now ready to exchange contracts.

Even though some transactions see exchange and completion happen on the same day, it usually takes anything between one day and two weeks.

Once the contracts have been exchanged and you’ve reached completion, the ownership of your new home will be transferred to you.

This is the point you can pick up your keys and move into your new home as long as all the necessary fees (your solicitor’s fees, your estate agent’s fees and stamp duty unless you’re a first-time buyer and your property cost less than £300,000) have been paid.

Which could make it take longer to buy your house?

There are several reasons why buying a house can take longer than expected.  Here are the four most common factors:

1. Delays elsewhere in your chain. When there are multiple property transactions involved, delays can appear at any link within the chain. These delays can be short when the problem is minor and surmountable.  However, they can be lengthy if one of the sales along the chain collapses.

2. Conveyancing issues like complications with paperwork or a disagreement between you and the seller over specific details of the sale. Your lawyer should be on hand to ensure you complete, sign and submit all forms promptly and accurately.  They’ll also negotiate on your behalf if a disagreement arises.

3. Unexpected survey results, particularly if they involve structural issues. You may want to ask the seller to rectify these as a condition of sale or consider whether it is simply easier for you to bear the costs yourself once you’ve completed. Either way, these deliberations can prolong the purchase.

4. The most unpredictable and biggest factor is the human element.

There are many actors involved in the conveyance of property; from the buyer and seller to their solicitors, estate agents, mortgage brokers, surveyors, Freeholders and their agents etc. These actors will all have their own priorities, agendas and workloads that all factor into how long a transaction can take.

All it can take is for one person to slow down the transaction.  This can be intentionally, e.g. taking time to review information ahead of a possible price negotiation.  It can be unintentionally (e.g. a sudden illness or death in the family of the buyer or seller).  Or it can be because of policy (e.g. set response times for some managing agents).  Whatever the reason, the effect is felt by everyone in the chain.

We can’t make any promises as to exactly how long your next property purchase will take. We can promise our experienced property team will do everything to make sure it is as quick and easy as possible.  If you’d like our help, please email me at Jeremy.Tulloch@collinshoy.com or call me on 0208 515 6600.