A step-by-step guide to moving home

What you need to do and when

Moving home is often referred to as the one of the most stressful life events – and this can be especially true if you not only need to buy a property, but if you need to sell one too in order to fund your next move. So whether you’re moving up the ladder or downsizing, it’s good to know what you need to do and in what order to make the experience as smooth (and as painless) as possible.

We can’t promise to remove the stress completely, but by reading our step-by-step guide on moving home, you’ll know what to expect at every stage so you can be better prepared and feel in control of buying your new home.

This guide is written specifically for home movers in England, so if you’re a first time buyer and looking for information about how you can get on the property ladder check out our First time home buyer guide to help get you started. But if you’re a home mover, then read on to find out what you need to do and when.

No matter what type of property you are looking to buy you will inevitably incur costs during the process of selling your existing property and buying a new one. The average cost of moving house is estimated at nearly £9,000 – and if you live in an area where properties are expensive, the costs could be much higher.

Be sure to write down all of the major costs involved in selling and buying a property, so that you don’t get a shock later down the line. At least if you have clear sight of all the costs at the start of the process then you can be realistic about how much money you will need to be able to afford to move.

Some of the main expenses to consider when buying a new home include mortgage lender fees, property survey fees, conveyancing fees, Stamp Duty Land Tax and home removal costs.

However, one savvy way of potentially saving money on the cost of moving is to transfer (or ‘port’) your current mortgage deal to the new property, rather than taking out a new mortgage deal, potentially saving you money on any mortgage exit fees you may need to pay. Not all mortgage lenders offer this mortgage feature, and you may only be allowed to do this if you're purchasing a new property at the same time you're selling your old one, so be sure to check with your current lender if this option is available to you.

Now you need to look at putting your property on the market, so you have an idea of how much you could expect to sell your house for, as it’s only when you have an idea of how much your house will realistically sell for that you will know how much you will have from the proceeds of the sale (after repaying your mortgage, estate agent fees and legal costs etc.) to be able to put towards the purchase of a new property. 

It’s likely that the proceeds from the house sale won’t be enough to cover the whole cost of buying the new property, and so you’ll need to work out how much you’ll need to pay from other sources to buy the new house, such as using any savings or applying for a mortgage.

The process of actually putting your house up for sale is quite straightforward, as the estate agent will do a lot of the work for you such as taking quality photographs of the property for their website, putting the ‘for sale’ sign up outside of your house and showing potential buyers around. It’s a good idea to shop around to find your preferred estate agent, as the fees and experience of selling properties like yours may differ between them. Appoint an estate agent that you feel comfortable with, ensuring you agree on a realistic price that your house will be marketed for and how it will be marketed to potential buyers.

You could consider whether to use the same estate agent for selling your current property as the one representing the property you’re looking to buy, as this may potentially save you money on fees, as well as giving you the convenience of dealing with one estate agent for both the sale of your existing house and the purchase of the new one. 

Once you have an idea of how much moving home is going to cost you, the next step is to find out exactly how much you are able to borrow. There are lots of online mortgage calculators that can help you understand what you could borrow, but to know for sure you should make an appointment with a mortgage adviser. 

You can find a mortgage adviser by visiting your local bank or building society, or you could even do an online search for independent advisers in your local area. Once you make contact, they will book an appointment with you so you can spend time talking through all of your finances and work out how much you are able to borrow. 

Everyone’s mortgage is different. However, the key things that lenders take into consideration when offering you a mortgage deal include the deposit you’re able to put down on the new property, your regular salary or earnings and the monthly repayments you’re able to make. Even your credit score has an impact on which mortgage deals are available to you, so make sure it’s in tip top condition.

Now that you know how much you can borrow it’s really important that you get a Decision in Principle (DIP). Essentially this is a mortgage quote where the mortgage lender checks your information and credit file and decides how much it is willing to lend to you. 

Some lenders can offer DIPs that only leave a soft footprint on your credit file, which does not have an impact on your credit rating as the search is logged as an ‘enquiry’. But some lenders offer DIPs that leave a hard footprint as the search is logged as a ‘credit application’.  And one important thing you should be aware of is that if you make multiple credit applications over a short period of time this may impact your credit rating.

A DIP isn’t a binding offer at this stage – the lender can change its mind at any time – but it’s a good indication that the lender is willing to provide you with a mortgage loan. And the main benefit of having one in place is it will allow you to move quickly with an actual mortgage application once you’ve found the property you’d like to buy.

It’s at this stage that many people shop around and compare mortgage deals with different mortgage lenders, obtaining what is called a ‘mortgage illustration’. This is essentially a document outlining all of the key information about a particular mortgage deal such as how much you’re borrowing, any fees or charges you’ll have to pay upfront and what your monthly repayments may be. Mortgage illustrations are a great way for you to easily compare between different mortgage deals, so you can work out which may be the best one for you.

And don’t forget, if you’re using a mortgage broker (rather than going direct to the mortgage lenders yourself) to find a new mortgage deal, then they will search the market and compare mortgage deals for you – saving you some of the leg work. Also, remember to check your current mortgage deal against any new ones, as it may be better for you to keep the deal you have and transfer your mortgage to the new property.

Opinion differs on which you should do first – put your home on the market, at the time you start your property hunt, or find your dream property first and then put your current home on the market. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation and there are pros and cons to each approach.

If you put your home on the market first, it may well mean that by the time to find your ideal next home you already have an offer on yours – which puts you in an ideal negotiating position to get a good deal on your next home. However, on the flip side finding a property you love can take a while and it may mean your current home languishes on the market for a while, which can make it look less appealing to potential buyers.

If you wait until you’ve found your dream home before you put your house on the market, the estate agent and your buyers will know you’re a motivated seller which may help generate interest, but you may not get an offer accepted on your dream home until you’ve accepted an offer on your current home, so you may find yourself pipped at the post by another party in a better position. When you approach the process this way round it may be easier to negotiate a good deal with the seller’s estate agent, whereby if you sell through them too, not only are they likely to charge a lower fee but you have a single agent to communicate with rather than two, and they have a better overview of any chain you find yourself in.

Whichever position you find yourself in buying-wise, you’ll first need to decide whether to take the traditional approach of using a local estate agent or try one of the new online ones such as Purple Bricks or Housesimple. Online agents may charge a flat fee or offer cheaper rates than an estate agent on the high street, but it can sometimes be worth spending more on a traditional estate agent – Rightmove’s article, Advantages of using an estate agent, explains more.

In order to maximise your chances of getting a quick sale at a good price, you need to make it as attractive as possible and to make it easy for those viewing to imagine themselves enjoying living there. So do some gardening, wash the windows and clean and de-clutter the inside – preferably before the estate agent takes any photos! For more ideas, check out Rightmove’s article, 10 tips to sell your house.

When it comes to viewings, you can either manage these yourself or, if you’re selling through an estate agent, ask them to do them. The advantage of showing potential buyers around your home yourself is that you’re best placed to answer any questions they have about either the property itself – such as the age of your boiler – or the local area, such as nearby amenities.

Any offers will be made to your estate agents who will pass them onto you for you to consider. Like you, your estate agent will want you to get a good price and a quick sale for your home so they will be able to advise whether you should accept an offer. There may be variables to consider other than price – for example, a cash buyer who is not in a chain could be a ‘better’ buyer than someone making a higher offer but has a property of their own yet to sell.

And remember, even if an offer is not for your full asking price, if you are able to knock a similar amount off your own offer for your new home, there will be no net impact.

With an idea of how much you are able to borrow, and hopefully a guide price on what you could achieve when your current home is sold, now’s the time for you to start house hunting. There are lots of options available for home buyers to help find the perfect property, such as making use of property apps, signing up for alerts with nationwide sites such as Rightmove and registering with local estate agents. To help focus your search, consider what’s most important to you – is it a particular location, or that extra bedroom, a big garden, proximity to good schools, local amenities or access to transport links to minimise your commute?

Even if you sign up for property alerts, it’s still a good idea to take the ‘old-fashioned’ approach of calling or visiting estate agents who are popular in your chosen area, as they may be able to help refine your search and may even call you to give advance notice of a property coming up for sale so you can get in there quickly with an early viewing.  Being known to them may also come in useful later on when you put in an offer on a property.

Emotions can run high when what you think may be your dream home comes onto the market at last – but it’s important to stay rationale and level-headed. If possible, take a friend along with you when you view it – they may spot things that you miss.

Don’t rush the visit. In particular, look for things that could cost money to repair in the future – while these could take effort to fix, on the flip side could help you negotiate a lower offer to offset the cost.

Signs of damp (i.e. watermarks on ceilings and walls, and a musty smell) and structural weakness (i.e. excessive or large cracks, or an old roof) are the biggies, but you should also think about other aspects such as the age of the boiler or the amount of storage space available, for example. 

Always have a second viewing – preferably at a different time of day so you can get a feel for the property and the surrounding area.

Once you’ve found your dream property it’s now time to make an offer, which means contacting the estate agent to put forward what price you’d like to pay for the property. The price of the property is for negotiation between you and the seller – you may want to research what price similar properties in the same area have recently sold for, to give you an idea of the offer to make. Remember, the sale price stated in the estate agent’s window is only a starting point for negotiation – many properties actually sell for significantly less than what the estate agent initially asked for on behalf of the seller and the asking price may be significantly higher than what the property may be worth in the current market.

To help you decide what to offer, you could also obtain rough quotes for any work you feel may need to be done on the property, such as for new electrics, boiler or windows, and knock the cost of these improvements off the asking price.

Most importantly, make sure you know the maximum you can realistically afford based on what you expect to get for your current home, any cash deposit you have and the amount your lender has told you they will lend – less the cost of moving (conveyancing, estate agents’ fees, stamp duty, removal van etc). Aim to bid below your limit in the first instance if that’s possible – as well as saving you money, that leaves you room to increase it later on if you need to.

Telltale signs that indicate that an offer below the asking price might be accepted include the fact that a house has been on the market a while, a seller who wants a quick sale or if you're the only person interested in the property.

If you’ve fallen in love with the house and the market is competitive, however, it might be worth entering an offer at the asking price if you can afford to do so. Leave yourself some room to manoeuvre, though, so you don't rule yourself out if the first offer isn't accepted.

If you’re thinking about buying a property in Scotland, you need to be aware that they’re governed by separate property laws to England and Wales. To find out more about buying property in Scotland, you can visit the Which? website.

When you call the seller's estate agent to make your offer, they will pass it onto the seller, who may accept or start to negotiate. If you enter negotiations, keep your budget in mind and be careful not to get carried away with the process. The Home Owners’ Alliance has more tips on negotiating for a house.

If your offer is accepted, although you're not legally bound to buy the property (except if buying in Scotland), you'll soon be ready to instruct a conveyancer and apply for a mortgage, which means you'll start incurring costs.

You may find the Money Advice Service’s article, How to buy and sell a house through estate agents, contains further useful information.

If a seller is happy to accept your offer it will be communicated to you at this point, usually by the estate agent. Again, try not to get carried away at this stage as this is not a binding agreement yet; however, you can allow yourself a little celebratory dance as this is a big milestone on the journey to securing your new home.

Moving day itself may still be some way off but now is a good time to starting thinking about everything you’ll need to do, in order to minimise panic – and some things, such as booking a removal firm, you’ll need to do weeks in advance. It’s also a good idea to start to collate the various paperwork you’ll need to provide for your buyer, including certificates for any electrical or building work you’ve had done. The moving home checklist from Which? highlights the key things you need to do each week in the month up to your moving day.

Now you’ve found the property you’d like to buy, and your offer has been accepted, the next step is for you to make a formal mortgage application – decide which mortgage deal you’d like to go ahead with, complete the mortgage application and submit it to the lender.

Conveyancing is an important part of the home buying process as it’s the legal process that transfers a property from one person to another. A conveyancer is a regulated legal professional who is authorised to do this work. This could be a solicitor (regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority) or a licensed conveyancer (regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers) responsible for completing all of the legal paperwork on your behalf, including the Land Registry and local council searches, drafting the contract and handling the exchange of money.

They also act for your mortgage lender in the mortgage transaction, so you should ask your conveyancer to confirm that they are able to act for your particular lender as not all conveyancers are able to act for all lenders.

Search tools are provided by both the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers to help you find a conveyancer. And if you can think ahead, it’s worth giving yourself some time to find a conveyancer so you can be sure you’ve chosen the right one, taking into account their experience and costs, as they can often be expensive.

It’s worth remembering that while all solicitors are able to carry out conveyancing, they may not be an expert in it. The Law Society is the group which represents solicitors in England and Wales and it operates an accreditation scheme known as the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS). It accredits those solicitors who can demonstrate a high level of quality in conveyancing services. So, if you choose a solicitor, it is worth establishing whether they are accredited to the CQS standard. Licensed conveyancers are specialists who only act in conveyancing transactions.

Removal companies can get booked up quite far in advance, especially if you’re looking to move on a popular day such as a Friday or even during the school holidays, so it’s a good idea to start getting quotes now. Search the British Association of Removers website for companies in your area.

Next you may need to carry out a property survey to ensure that the property is in good condition. While the mortgage lender will have already carried out a basic valuation to satisfy itself that they are happy to lend on the property, this is not a survey and is not for your benefit so you should also consider carrying out a formal property survey so that any issues are flagged before you actually buy the property – and this is something which your mortgage lender could help to arrange for you. Legally, it is your responsibility to be satisfied as to the condition of the property – the seller is under no obligation to tell you about the condition. This legal principle is often known by the Latin phrase ‘caveat emptor’ or ‘buyer beware’.

There are two main types of surveys which you can choose from – a Homebuyer’s Report and a Full Structural Survey – and each comes with its own level of detail and price tag. So be sure to choose the one which is most suitable to your circumstances.

While your mortgage application is being looked at by the mortgage lender, your conveyancer will start to carry out the necessary searches for your new property. These conveyancing searches will include local authority searches, land registry searches and environmental searches to name a few.

Following your mortgage application you will now receive a formal mortgage offer and offer illustration from your mortgage lender, confirming they are happy to lend you the money to buy your new property – the next big milestone in buying your new home!

It’s really important that you check all of the details contained in this document are accurate. If there are any discrepancies, go back to the mortgage lender as soon as possible. This is an important document so ensure you keep it safe.

Depending on the arrangements that are negotiated between you, your buyer and your seller (through your respective conveyancers) you may have to pay an amount of money to your conveyancer to cover the deposit payable on exchange of contracts on your purchase. The deposit will typically be 10 percent of the purchase price. Your buyer will also have to pay a deposit on exchange of contracts on the sale of your property and it is often possible for that deposit to be used as some or all of the deposit in your purchase transaction. You should confirm in advance with your conveyancer what arrangements are preferred for payment of the deposit on exchange of contracts.

The quickest way to pay the deposit to your conveyancer is to arrange a Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS) payment with your bank or building society so you can pay them the full amount in one go. This payment can usually be done within the same day and there may be a charge for this type of payment.

Time to get the champagne out! At this stage in the process your conveyancer and the seller’s swap signed copies of the contract and deposits are paid between them, which makes the house sale a legally binding contract between you and the seller. You will be bound to buy the property for the agreed price on the completion date and neither party may withdraw from or change the arrangements without legal consequences. Your conveyancer will also arrange simultaneous exchange of contracts in your house sale.

Now it’s really important for you to put in place insurance for the property, to cover yourself should anything unexpected happen – and many people choose to put in place combined buildings and contents insurance. If you’re unsure as to what value you need to set your buildings insurance at, check your mortgage valuation report to see what the rebuild value may be estimated at, as you’d need enough money to be able to cover the rebuild cost should the worst happen.

You should also confirm the completion date with your removals company as you will be expected to have vacated your existing property on the completion date. Some removals companies will want confirmation that contracts have been exchanged before they will confirm your booking.

Now that you’ve exchanged contracts, the next key milestone is for your conveyancer to agree a suitable completion date, which is the date when the keys will be physically handed over to you (and the official date that the interest on the mortgage loan is payable from). This is all very exciting, but remember that if you also have a property that you’re selling then you may need to take that into account to align the completion dates of both the property you’re selling and the one you’re buying (although the dates don’t always have to align). This is one of the points in the home-buying journey where you may have to show some flexibility – to allow everyone sufficient time to move up in the property chain.

Now that you’ve exchanged contracts, there are a few further steps which need to be completed before you can move in, such as carrying out any final searches, signing the transfer deed and actually transferring the money to pay for your new property. So be sure to check with your conveyancer that everything has been completed.

Your conveyancer will provide you with a final statement itemising both transactions and identifying either any final balance due from you in order to complete or any monies that are due back to you at completion.

Now you should think about redirecting your mail from your old house to your new one, to ensure you carry on receiving all of your mail. The Post Office usually needs about a week’s notice to put the redirection in place, and so as soon as you know when you’ll be leaving the old property register with the Post Office to up your redirection. You can choose to redirect your mail for 3, 6 or 12 months and there will be a cost to do this.

At last, the keys to your new home are finally yours. Now you have the pleasure of moving in, unpacking all of those boxes and making the place feel like home.

The final thing on your home movers’ to-do list is to make sure you sort out all of that admin which comes with moving into a new property. This includes everything from organising your contents insurance (if you haven’t already done so) to setting up your utilities (water, gas, electricity, broadband etc.). Don’t put this off – as the sooner you get everything set up and running the better.

As well as making quick, cheap changes like repainting the walls to your taste, you may want to consider bigger improvements to your new home, such as a new bathroom or kitchen. Our article, Home improvements: the costs and benefits, may help you to decide which projects to prioritise for. And if you’re keen to keep an eye on the future when undertaking big projects in order to maximise the chances of any future selling price covering and exceeding the costs of any work you have done, our article, How to add value to your home, should keep you on track.

Now you’re in your new home you can breathe a sigh of relief that you made it through the home moving process. Phew! Now all that’s left for you to do is to ensure you’re all set up to start paying your mortgage as agreed with your mortgage lender. You’ll usually receive a Completion Statement from your lender which will set out the date of your first mortgage payment, and subsequent payment dates, as well as the method of payment (Direct Debit is preferred but standing order is also an option).

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.