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When you put in an offer as a first time buyer, there’s one big question that absolutely nobody can answer – how long until we can move in?

I’m not even going to try and answer that today – but what I do have is the complete timeline of mine and my boyfriend’s first house purchase. Now, I have no idea how “typical” the length of time we waited is, because people can complete in six weeks, or it could take two years. It’s a complete lottery.

The issue with waiting to move in

The kitchen in our rented flat, note the lack of oven. Totally worth £1,000 a month, right?

Landlord hell

For renters, not having a concrete move in date when you make an offer can be a big problem. If your contract expires before you can move into your new house, it can mean you need to find somewhere else to live for a few months, and most landlords don’t like tenants to sign contracts for less than a 6 month period.

For us, we were on a rolling contract, which was okay, but our particularly nasty landlord wouldn’t let us put a month’s notice in from when we actually told them, but instead from the date of our next rent payment. This meant we ended up spending £1,000 on a flat we were forced to rent for almost an entire month while we owned a house at the same time.

Not funny, right?

Mortgage mayhem

Ended up waiting more than three – six months from when you got your initial mortgage offer? Then you’ll need to apply for another one. This could be easy to do, or it could be a real palaver ending up with you having to prove your income all over again, and might even mean you end up paying higher interest rates.

What’s the hold up?

Here are some of the factors that can add time onto your expected completion date:

The chain

(Cue Fleetwood Mac music)

What that means is how many separate properties are being bought and sold between the top of the chain (the first time buyer, or someone else moving from rented accommodation) and the bottom (someone who is selling a house, but not buying another one immediately).

This was our chain:

  • Me and Sam – first time buyers living in rented accommodation.
  • The woman we were buying our house from (we’ll call her Sarah).
  • The woman who owns the house Sarah and her boyfriend are buying (we’ll call her Julie). Julie was moving in with her partner, so was not buying a property.

This is a chain of three. It’s a pretty small chain, some unlucky buyers end up in chains of over 10 people. The reason chains can slow down a property purchase is because it only takes one person to forget to send off a form to their solicitor, and everyone will feel the effect.

Want to join a community of other people trying to buy their first home? Join my free Facebook group First Time Buyer Wannabes.

Something I found helped speed things up a bit was getting Sarah’s email address. When nothing seemed to be moving, I’d email her, and she’d let me know straight away that she was waiting for Julie to sign something, and I’d tell her what stage we were at with things. When you’re going through solicitors every question seems to take two weeks to answer!

New builds

Even though first time buyers moving into a new build property won’t have a chain, it can take even longer for another reason.

Timeline for buying a house new build

If you buy a property off-plan, then you won’t have even seen it before you make an offer, because it hasn’t been built yet. Jenni from Can’t Swing a Cat was initially told it’d be around 6 months before she could move in to her new build flat, but it ended up being almost a year.

Survey issues

Something that added time onto our purchase, was the feedback from our surveyor. He found some issues that weren’t obvious to our untrained eyes, so we asked if they could reduce the price slightly. What was finally agreed was that we’d get a discount of £2,000, and they’d include the white goods (oven, dishwasher, fridge etc) that were already in the house.

Because the terms of our house sale changed, our solicitor had to write up a new contract, and we had to tell our mortgage provider that we needed to borrow less money. The mortgage part should be easy, right? NOPE – it took a really long time for them to decide we didn’t need a new mortgage offer, and to send us the slightly edited paperwork. In the end, they didn’t even do as I asked them (to take the £2k off the mortgage, not the deposit), and it was too late to change it by the time I realised.


Getting money out of the bank

When I hired my solicitor, I told him that me and my boyfriend both had Lifetime ISAs (read more about how I used them to get £10,000 of our deposit for free). However, when it came to exchange/completion, we had to push the process back a week because the process of closing our Lifetime ISAs took longer than we anticipated.

I didn’t know this, but Skipton Building Society advise that it could take up to 30 days between you applying to close your LISA, and your solicitor receiving the money. In the end it only took 6 days for us to cash out, after some frantic calls and amazing customer service from Skipton, but I’d suggest giving yourself plenty of time to get this done. Once you’ve closed your LISA, you’ve got 90 days to complete, and if you don’t your solicitor can ask for an extension or the money goes back to your account. The way you close a Help to Buy ISA is a bit different, but still leave yourself a week or two to get it done.

Actually transferring the bulk of your deposit to your solicitor could trip you up, too. I managed to split my deposit between different banks before I transferred it, because some of them had a daily withdrawal limit of £10,000. With Faster Payments you can move up to £25k a day for free, if you’re trying to move more than that all in one go you need to do a CHAPS transfer, which costs £30, and will probably involve you having to visit the bank in person.

Our timeline

First house viewed: 3rd of March

Habito application sent in: 15th of April

Mortgage agreement in principle received: 24th of April

First offer made: 29th of April

Offer accepted: 5th of May

Solicitor found: 9th of May

Mortgage application sent off: 11th of May

Mortgage offer received: 23rd of May

Received contract papers, property information and contents form: 19th of June

Instructed a surveyor: 25th June

Survey took place: 29th June

Survey results received: 1st of July

Revised offer submitted: 17th of July

Renegotiated price agreed: 26th of July

Revised mortgage offer received: 8th of August

Signed contract: 9th of August

Received solicitor’s report: 28th of August

Paid 10% deposit: 29th of August

Requested to close our LISAs: 30th of August

Received money from LISAs: 6th of September

Exchanged contracts: 7th of September

Signed TR1 form and mortgage deed: 8th of September

Completion: 14th of September

Received keys: 15th of September

How long until we moved in?

Total amount of time from start to finish: 196 days

Total amount of time from having our offer accepted until completion: 132 days

Apparently 6 months is average, which is about how long it took us. I’m just glad we’re moved in and the stress is over! (At least, for now.)

Thinking of buying a house? These other posts might be a good place to start:

How much it costs to buy a house

Things nobody tells you about viewing houses

How to save for a deposit (like, actually)

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complete house timeline purchase
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