Buying your first home

Stepping onto the first rung of the property ladder is an exciting life milestone. But for the uninitiated, buying a property can seem a complicated and confusing process. So we’ve prepared a handy guide to help you navigate on your journey to becoming a home owner.

Published in April 2023

Getting started

Many people dream about buying their own property. Whether you’re looking to fly the family nest or you’re at a different stage of life, getting the keys to your first home can be a satisfying moment. It can be a way to put down roots, achieve independence or lay the foundations for a family.

Whatever your reasons for looking to buy your own place, there’s a lot to consider. From financial planning to finding the right property to picking a mortgage product, the decisions come thick and fast. Let’s look at some of the main stages along the way.

Can you afford to buy a home?

Buying a property can be an expensive business and for most people it will mean having to get a mortgage – a loan for most of the cost of the property, which you pay back with interest added over many years. You’ll also usually need to have money saved up in advance for a deposit.

You can get a rough idea of how much you can borrow with an affordability calculator like the one below. This takes into account factors like your income and your household and living costs to work out approximately how much you can afford to spend on a home.

Use the government’s Mortgage Affordability Calculator for an idea of how much you could borrow.

There will other costs to think about too. When you buy a property, you’ll need to pay legal fees and sometimes a mortgage arrangement fee. And there’s the running costs that will kick in once you’re in your home – things like utility bills, council tax, home insurance, maintenance and the cost of furnishing and decorating your new place.

When you’ve considered all this and have an approximate borrowing figure in mind, you may want to start browsing the property market to see whether there are properties out there that match your budget.

Finding the right mortgage

If your early calculations leave you pretty confident that you’re ready and able to buy your first home, it’s time to start thinking about mortgages. There are several options available. Repayment mortgages mean you pay back the debt as you go, whereas interest-only options only service the lender’s interest without actually covering the cost of the home itself.

Fixed rate products give you some certainty over your payments for a set period (this added peace of mind comes at a higher cost) while the repayments on variable and tracker rate products can rise and fall according to interest rates. And there are other options too, including products called offset and current account mortgages.

If you know your stuff financially or have some trusted guidance from friends or family, you might want to do your own research and approach a mortgage lender direct. But for many people it makes sense to call on the services of a financial advisor. We’d recommend always using an independent advisor who has access to the whole market – not one that only represents a select panel of lenders, which will limit your options.

The services of a financial advisor are often free (they usually get a commission from whichever lender you choose to borrow from). They’re great at spotting the best deal for you, helping with the mortgage application process, and advising on other areas such as insurances and pensions.

Searching for a property

Now things start to become exciting! Once you have what’s called an Agreement in Principle on your mortgage, you can get serious about viewing potential properties to buy. You will of course be guided by your budget limit. Plus, you might also think about things like how flexible you can be with locations, how many bedrooms you need and whether you need off-street parking.

Are you looking for a flat or can you stretch to a house? Do you want a home that’s finished to a high standard or would you be prepared to take on a fixer-upper? Renovations can be a huge added expense but if you or family and friends can do some of the work yourselves, it can be a savvy way to save money on your home.

There are lots of places to search for properties to buy. You can see a sizeable portion of the market through the big online property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla. But you can also check local estate agents’ websites – you can browse the homes we’re currently selling at Smeaton Homes here. And it’s well worth registering with agents so they can help pinpoint local options that might work best for your specific needs.

Register with Smeaton Homes so we can look out for the ideal first home for you.

If you find a home that looks like a contender, arrange a viewing with the estate agents. This is the time to really get up close and personal with the property to decide whether it’s right for you. If you’re not experienced in what things to look out for, consider taking someone along who can help you out. And don’t be afraid to ask the estate agents questions – whether it’s a concerning crack in a wall or getting the lowdown on the local area, they should be happy to explain.

When you find the perfect place, it’s time to put in an offer. Talk to the estate agents representing the property and they can advise on the current level of interest in it. You might decide to make an offer that’s equal to, below or sometimes above the asking price. If declined, you may choose to adjust your offer. Once you have an offer accepted on a home, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of the purchase.

Buying your home

With the sale agreed, it’s time for lots of things to happen in sequence to steer you towards your purchase. You’ll now need to make your full mortgage application (or ask your financial advisor to do this for you). Plus, you’ll have to call on another property expert to handle the legal parts of the purchase – a conveyancer or property solicitor. You can appoint one you’ve chosen yourself or ask your estate agents for a recommendation.

You’ll probably also need to arrange a survey of the property you’re buying. This will give the home an overall check to see whether there are any structural problems and if maintenance of even major building works are needed. This survey reassures you that you’re making a sound purchase, and confirms to your lender that their loan investment is safe.

Exchange and completion

When you, as the buyer, make a formal contract with the seller, this is known as ‘exchange’ – once this is in place, you’re both legally committed to going ahead with the transaction. At this point you should also have buildings insurance in place. This is followed by ‘completion’ (sometimes up to a couple of weeks later – but exchange and completion can happen at the same time). Completion means getting the keys and being able to get into your new home!

Just completed on my first home, the team at Smeaton Homes have been amazing from start to finish! I even got a lovely hamper the day I collected my keys too which was a lovely touch. Hope to use them again in the future when I’m ready for my next purchase!


You’ll know your completion date in advance – and this will allow you to arrange removals and make personal plans. Once you’ve moved into your property, as well as breathing a sigh of relief, you’ll need to attend to a few essential admin tasks. These include letting every service provider (banks, water company, phone companies, etc) know your new address. Plus, you’ll need to tell your Council Tax authority and your local electoral services department. And don’t forget to get familiar with the everyday stuff, like where your boiler is located and on which days the rubbish and recycling are collected.

Above all, though, it’s time to celebrate and congratulate yourself on buying your first home!