How long does it take to buy a house (or a flat, cottage, or converted lighthouse on the Cornish coast)? For most homebuyers in the UK, you’re looking at somewhere around 3 to 6 months.

But a huge number of factors come into play in your journey from finding a property to getting the keys. You might find things fall into place more quickly than you’d imagined, or you might hit a few unexpected bumps in the road.

In this article, we’ve broken down the homebuying process into seven key steps. (Note that if you’re buying in Scotland, the process is a little different.) We’ve also estimated timings for each step, so you can see how long buying a home is likely to take from start to finish.

How long does it take to buy a house from start to finish?

Step 1: The property search

Time it takes: Extremely variable

This is the step that’s hardest to put a timeframe on. Finding the property you want to be your new home could take a matter of days, or it could be months.

Here are a few factors that can affect the length of your search:

  • Availability of properties in your search area
  • Finding a home that fits your budget
  • Whether you’re happy to do work on the property
  • How urgently you need to move

Once you’ve found your ideal property, it’s onto step 2…

Step 2: Making an offer

Time: A few hours to a few days

Making an offer on a property (and having it accepted) is usually a fairly quick stage of homebuying. The time it takes will depend on your estate agent talking to the seller, and how long the seller takes to consider your offer.

You might also spend a bit of extra time haggling if your first offer isn’t accepted.

But once you’ve come up with a price that the seller is happy with, that’s the moment to crack your knuckles and apply for the mortgage.

Step 3: The mortgage

Time: 3 to 6 weeks+

Unless you’re a cash buyer, your first task, once you’ve had an offer accepted, is to apply for a mortgage to buy that property. Here’s a breakdown of the application process:

  • Filling in the application. It might take you a day or so to gather your documents and fill out the paperwork. If you’re using a mortgage broker, they can help you with this step and make sure your information and documents are all present and correct.
  • Submission and review. Once you’ve submitted the application, your lender could take up to 6 weeks to review it. During this time, they’ll carry out a credit check, do an affordability assessment to make sure you’ll be able to repay the mortgage, and do a valuation to make sure the property is worth what you’ve offered for it.
  • Request for more information. After they review your application, the lender might decide they need more information from you. This could cause a delay of a few days.
  • Approval. If all goes to plan, you’ll get your official mortgage offer!

The good news is, while you’re waiting to hear back about your mortgage application, you can get on with steps 4 and 5 of the homebuying process.

Step 4: The property survey

Time: 2 to 3 weeks

A property survey is a detailed report on the condition of the place you’re buying, which you get before you commit to actually buying it. Your surveyor will assess the building and let you know if there are any problems that need to be fixed – which can save you from some unpleasant (and expensive) surprises later on. Although the survey itself isn’t very time-consuming, it might take a couple of weeks to book one if the surveyor is busy.

The key types of survey are:

  • A homebuyer’s report: This takes 2 to 4 hours and costs £300 to £400. It will identify any issues in the property on a surface level (in other words, anything the surveyor can see without ripping up carpets or climbing up chimneys).
  • A structural survey: This more thorough investigation of the building could take up to a day and costs up to £1,000. But it could well be worth it if the surveyor uncovers serious concerns with the structure of the building.

Identifying issues early on can give you a chance to renegotiate the price of the property with the seller (if you want to take care of the work yourself) or arrange for the seller to fix the problems before you complete the sale.

Step 5: Conveyancing

Time: 8 to 12 weeks

Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring a property from one owner to a new owner. You’ll want to have instructed a specialist property solicitor (conveyancer) by the time you submit your mortgage application.

Once your mortgage application is in progress, your solicitor will carry out what are known as “property searches”. This involves contacting different authorities for information about the property you want to buy, the land it’s built on, and the local area. Essentially, they’re checking for anything that could affect the value of the property or your experience living there.

The searches usually include:

  • Local authority searches for issues with planning, roads, pollution.
  • Drainage searches for issues with water supply and sewage.
  • Environmental searches for issues with flooding, landslides, contamination.

Your solicitor will also liaise with the seller’s solicitor to draw up the contracts for the sale, and help organise a date for completion (where you get your keys and move in). 

A note about chains

You’re in a chain if there’s one or more people ahead of you or behind you needing to sell their current property before they can move. If you’re in a chain, the conveyancing stage is where you could see some significant delays. The more people in the chain, the more things can go wrong – whether that’s a delay in a mortgage being approved or a property search throwing up problems.

Also, if one person in the chain pulls out of the sale for some reason, that can potentially set your homebuying plans back by months.

So, how long does it take to buy a house with no chain? It depends, but it can often be quicker than buying in a chain – because there are far fewer complications.

On the other hand, if you are chain-free, that doesn’t always guarantee you a shorter homebuying journey. For example, you might get unexpected issues with your mortgage application or find structural problems in the property. All this could still cause delays.

But now, let’s assume your mortgage has been approved, you’re happy with the property survey, and your solicitor has carried out all their searches. It’s time to move onto the final stages of conveyancing. That brings us to steps 6 and 7.

Step 6: Exchanging contracts

Time: Typically takes place 14 to 28 days before completion (but can happen on the same day)

Now’s the moment to pay your deposit and sign the contract for the sale. Make sure you’ve got the money for your deposit somewhere easily accessible – having it all in the same bank account will save time.

Your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor will exchange contracts, and then the purchase becomes legally binding.

Exchange is a big moment: you know you’ll be moving into your new home very soon.

Step 7: Completion

Time: 24 hours or less

It’s the end of your homebuying journey! Completion usually happens a couple of weeks after you’ve exchanged contracts, sometimes it happens on the very same day.

Your solicitor will:

  • “Draw down the funds” from your mortgage, which means they’ll get the money from your lender, and pass it on to the seller’s solicitor
  • Give you the deeds (legal documents showing ownership) to the property
  • Check that you’ve paid any remaining fees related to the sale

Then you can pick up your keys and move in. Congratulations! You’ve just bought your home.

Get help on your homebuying journey with Habito

Buying a home can be full of twists and turns. If you want support along the journey, we can help! 

With Habito Plus, we’ll find the best mortgage deal for you, sort out conveyancing, and even organise the property survey – speeding everything up and smoothing out bumps in the road. We’re with you every step of the way.