Taking your first step onto the property ladder can be an exciting time, but it can be a confusing time too. We’re here to help make things a little clearer for you.

What is a mortgage?

A mortgage is a loan taken out to buy a house or land. It is a secured loan meaning that until the full cost of the home is paid off, the amount borrowed is leveraged against your home. Unless you’re buying a house outright with cash, you’ll need to obtain a mortgage to help you purchase a home.  You repay a mortgage monthly and over an agreed term. The term is usually between 25 and 30 years but it will vary on your personal situation, affordability, and age.

The cost of buying your home

Before diving into the mortgage process you will need to start by understanding your affordability and saving a mortgage deposit. Many lenders require you to save at least 10% of the purchase price of your desired home. For example, if you were looking to buy a home costing £200,000, you’ll need to save at least £20,000 (10%) for the deposit. However, this is a minimum requirement so if you are able to save more this could give you more equity in your home and potentially access to lower interest rates.

Alongside your deposit, there are other things which you may need to save for. It can include costs such as; solicitor/conveyancer fees, mortgage arrangement fees, valuation fee (some first-time buyer mortgages offer a basic valuation for free), house survey, Stamp Duty Tax and Land Registry Fee. Not all will be applicable, but it is worthwhile to be aware of fees which you may need to be accounted for.

The cost of owning your home

It is important to consider the cost of running your home too, once it’s bought. Once you’ve moved in, this is when the regular bills and payments begin and it’s important to ensure it’s affordable and within budget.

Some costs from Zoopla and the Independent may help you to understand average costs:

  • gas & electric (£142 per month for 1-2 people)
  • council tax (£167 per month)
  • water bills (£34 per month)
  • home insurance (£12 per month)
  • broadband (£44 per month)
  • subscriptions (approx £500 per annum)

You may find it useful to work out exactly what you can afford to help you in the house hunting process. After all, a bigger home may not only equate to a bigger mortgage but also potentially higher bills as it may fall into a more expensive council tax bracket, and may cost more in heating to heat a bigger area. 

Our budget planner can help to understand your affordability against your salary. You can click the button to download our budget planner.

Saving for your deposit

Saving for your mortgage deposit can take time. In 2023, the average house deposit for a first-time buyer was £53,414 (according to Statista), which is why saving as early as possible can make the process easier and less daunting.

At the beginning of your journey when you are thinking about saving for your deposit, you will need to consider where you’re planning to buy, the type of property, and of course, your affordability. This can help you to understand property prices for the type of house and area you would like to live in, which can then help you to work out the amount of deposit you may need.

Our Member Account could help you to save for your mortgage deposit by saving from your payroll (in most forces) and you can rest assured it’s accessible when you need it. Use our calculator below to work out how much you need to save each month, or how long it may take you to build your deposit.


Use our savings calculator

How much can you afford to save each month?


Savings after 6 months


Savings after 1 year


Savings after 3 years


Savings after 5 years


The application process

Applying for a mortgage can be a complicated process so we have provided a breakdown of the process below.

An AIP is confirmation from a lender of an approximate amount they would be willing to lend to you for a mortgage, this is based on your financial situation. When applying for an AIP the lender will complete a soft search on your credit file. A soft search does not affect your credit score but will show up when you check your credit report, they’re only visible to you.

An AIP is often necessary to have ready when making an offer on a property. It proves to the estate agent that you are likely to be able to afford the property you would like to purchase. Some people chose to get this prior to searching for a property to ensure they know how much they can borrow. Once a lender has issued you with an AIP, it is typically valid for 90 days. The lender will undertake a more in-depth assessment later if you proceed with a formal mortgage application.

It is important to note that an AIP does not guarantee that a lender will lend you this amount, it only gives you an approximate based on simple information. An in depth affordability check will take place before you are formally offered a mortgage by a lender.

Now you know how much you can borrow, it’s time to start looking at properties. There are a variety of websites that advertise properties, the most used in the UK being Rightmove and Zoopla. You can also speak to local estate agents to see what they have to offer. Once you see a few properties you like, we suggest viewing them all! It may seem excessive, but this is probably one of the biggest investments of your life, so it’s important to get it right.

Once you’ve found a property you want to call home, the next step is to make an offer. This is usually through an estate agent, you don’t have to pay the estate agent any fees as you’re the buyer.

You will need to select a solicitor/conveyancer and a surveyor to assist with the process. Your surveyor will check for any problems with the property and any potential problems which they find could affect the value of the home.

Your solicitor/conveyancer will handle any legal work around the property this includes searching for anything that could affect the overall value. They also submit searches to the local council to check whether there are any planning or local issues that might also affect the property’s value.

Surveys can be seen as health checks for your property. They are detailed inspections that check a property’s condition and structure. There are a few different surveys you can choose from each varying in how much detail the report will go into. The more comprehensive the survey the more it will cost, level 1 surveys can start anywhere from £250.

Surveys may also help you renegotiate the price of the property before a sale. For example, if the survey reveals a problem with the property that will cost £10,000 to repair, you could ask the seller to lower the price by that much.

It can be a stressful time, buying your first home. Ensure peace of mind and protection when carrying out surveys and use a RICS professionally regulated surveyor.

Level 1 survey

The aim of this survey is to identify any risks, legal issues or defects. This survey will flag defects and issues but not necessarily provide advice on how to manage them. Typically the cheapest survey available, however, you may not be charged depending on the type of mortgage product you select.

Level 2 survey

This report will offer more detailed information on how to manage any of the defects or issues detected. This survey doesn’t advise on the structural integrity of the property.

Level 3 survey

This survey is a comprehensive assessment of the structure and condition of the property, providing thorough insight on how to manage any defects or issues uncovered by the survey. It will even offer an estimation into the costs associated with fixing the problems.

Finalising the offer

Once the survey is completed you may want to renegotiate the price of your new home.

There are two reasons for this:

  • your survey may reveal problems with the property that could be expensive to fix. You can use this information to ask for a reduction in price
  • the lender might value the property at a lower price. This means you won’t be able to match the asking price or what you originally intended to offer.

It’s this stage in the process that can often be most stressful. Problems and delays can happen for reasons including:

  • the seller pulling the property out of the market
  • the seller accepting an offer from another buyer
  • your mortgage application being rejected

Throughout this process its important to communicate your problems with your solicitor and estate agent who will inform the seller. It’s often possible to help a situation by having open communication between all parties to prevent problems from arising.

Finalising your mortgage

If all things go to plan, contact your lender or Mortgage Adviser to proceed with the process. There is often a fee, usually called an arrangement fee, to set up the mortgage. This can be added to your mortgage, but if you choose to do so, you’ll pay interest on the fee for the life of the mortgage.

If things go to plan and there aren’t any delays, you should receive a contract to sign and complete the sale. However, before signing the documents, its important to go through details with your solicitor. At this stage, the seller is committed to the sale of the property.

The remaining funds owed for the property are now transferred from your solicitor’s account to the sellers solicitor’s account.

Once the property is registered in your name, your solicitor will arrange for the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) to be filed within 14 days of completion. First time buyers do not have to pay stamp duty unless the property value is above £425,000.