Guide to Buying

Are you considering buying your first property in London? Our quick guide covers some helpful tips we've shared with our clients over the years, from getting a mortgage to making an offer on a property.

Buying Guide

These are ownership terms you'll see in your search and it's helpful to know the difference.

If you own the freehold, the property will be yours outright. As the freeholder, you will be responsible for all upkeep and maintenance as long as you are the owner, but there are many positives.

If you own the leasehold, you can live in the property for as long as the lease specifies. Many leases are for 100-150 years and some much longer, as much as 999 years. When the remaining lease length falls below 80 years, a lender might want you to apply for an extension. The lease will say who is responsible for the upkeep of specific parts of the property and how much ground rent will be paid to the freeholder. It will also state the freehold landlord's responsibilities, and permission may be needed to carry out particular works or improvements.

If the lease is less than 80 years, the price may be attractive, but this is because it will reflect the cost of extending the lease, which can run into many £ ’000's. Careful advice from a specialist surveyor should be obtained.

Your bank, building society or independent mortgage brokers can help you secure a mortgage and work within your budget.

If an estate agent is marketing the property, offers must be made through them. Until contracts are exchanged, an offer will not be legally binding. If a building survey detects work that needs to be done, the asking price may have to be renegotiated.

How much will it cost to buy a property?

There are some one-time costs to consider when buying a property, from agency fees to instructing a surveyor. There are a few expenses you may not have thought about, which we list below. As always, consult with a trusted advisor at the start of your search to come fully prepared with an offer if you find the right property.

Have an independent survey done to check for defects of the property. There are three main categories of a survey:

  • Valuation Survey: The fee is reflected in the price of the property but as a rough budget, allow £300-£1,000 
  • Homebuyer's Report: is likely to cost in the region of £500-£1,000 
  • Structural Survey: Most expensive but the most thorough and can save you money down the line. but as a rough budget of £1,000-£2,000

This is a standard fee charged by the lender for setting up the mortgage. This fee is sometimes halved or waived altogether as an incentive for opting to use the particular lender.

There are some exemptions, so you need to check at the time of purchase, but Stamp Duty is a tax levied on properties worth over £300,000 and works on an upward scale depending on the property's value.

Solicitors may charge a flat rate or a percentage of the property price up to ½%. A complex transaction, or one that takes longer, may result in a higher fee. In addition, you'll be responsible for any costs incurred by your lenders' solicitor, so shopping around for the best deal is again recommended.

In England and Wales, there is a department that looks after the register of all properties. There is a fee involved for transferring the register to the new householder, which is as follows:

  • Up to £40,000 - £40 
  • £40,001-£70,000 - £60 
  • £70,001-£100,000 - £100 
  • £100,001-£200,000 - £200 
  • £200,001-£500,000 - £300 
  • £500,001-£1,000,000 - £500 
  • £1,000,001 and over - £800

The legal process

Once an offer is accepted, a contract is drawn up by the seller's solicitor. The contract will detail the conditions of the sale, selling price, what's included in the price and the date of completion.

When both parties have agreed on a contract, copies are signed and sent to each other. This forms a legally binding contract, and compensation will need to be paid if either party decides to pull out of the transaction.

The conveyancers will make all necessary checks. When everything is ok, the money will be paid to the seller.

If everything in the offer was in good order, the process has been completed. The property now belongs to the buyer and keys are exchanged.

The buyer's conveyancer now registers the change of ownership. The buyer informs their insurer that completion has been reached and will pay stamp duty.