A first-time buyer’s guide to getting on the property ladder

The process of owning your own home is really exciting, and picking up the keys to your first home is an incredibly proud and rewarding moment.

That said, buying a home is one of the most stressful things you’ll choose to do and can be difficult to navigate as a first-time buyer.

At Cornerstone Finance, we’re here to help. Our advisers have expert knowledge of the property market and can find you the best rates available while guiding you through the entire process.


Embarking on the process of purchasing your first home can become disheartening quickly if you’re underprepared, so it’s really important to make sure you’re in the right position before proceeding.

From the deposit you’ve saved to the funds you’ll need to borrow, there’s a lot to consider when making sure this is something you can afford.

Our mortgage calculator can give you an idea of how much you can borrow for a mortgage based on your personal circumstances.

When you have an idea of how much you’re able to borrow, consider getting a decision in principle (DIP), as this often increases buyer credibility from the sellers’ perspective.

A decision in principle is where the lender checks your credit file and some additional information before deciding how much they may lend to you – it’s not a legally binding offer, meaning the lender can change its mind.

Start your search

Armed with an idea of how much you may be able to borrow, now’s the time to find the home you’ve been saving for!

The current mortgage market is moving at pace, so it’s a good idea to know what’s important for you to have in your first home. Consider making a must-have and nice-to-have list to help you narrow down your deal breakers.

Several popular property websites can help you with your search, such as RightmoveZoopla, and On The Market.

Many property websites have the option to register for notifications when new property listings that match your specified criteria – a really helpful tool to minimise doomscrolling.

Make the right offer for you

When you find a home you love, emotions can take over, and it may be tempting to offer higher than you can realistically afford.

At this stage, it’s really important to remember the additional costs you’ll need to pay, such as:

  • Mortgage arrangement fee
  • Valuation fees
  • Stamp Duty
  • Conveyancing fees
  • Removal costs
  • Service charges
  • Mortgage repayments

Understanding the fixtures and fittings and getting them confirmed in writing will help guide your offer price.

Offer accepted! 

Getting your offer accepted is a really exciting milestone.

There’s still a lot to do, and remember that nobody is legally bound to complete the deal until the exchange of contracts.

If another buyer offers more than you, the seller may back out of your deal. Asking the seller to take the property off the market after accepting your offer may limit the chance of this happening, but it cannot be entirely avoided.

The seller may also decide to cancel the sale of their property. While this can be really frustrating, sellers are within their right to do this.

Secure your mortgage 

A decision in principle is often only valid for 30 or 90 days, depending on the lender. Therefore, it may have expired if your property search exceeded this period.

At Cornerstone Finance, we can find you the best possible rates through our whole-of-market approach.

We have no lies to any specific lender, meaning we are free to recommend the best deals in the market to all of our clients.

To speak to one of our advisers about securing a mortgage as a first-time buyer, please get in touch on 02921 660 550 or simply fill out our quick form, and we’ll be in touch.

Once you’ve found the mortgage that suits you and you’ve applied, there are several things you’ll need to do while your application is being processed:

  • Select your solicitor.
  • The lender will check the property and your position as a buyer, so be prepared to provide further information.
  • Keep in touch with your solicitor while they conduct searches on the property, such as local authority searches, drainage searches and an environmental search.
  • A mortgage valuation is not a survey, so be sure to book a property survey if applicable. There are different types of surveys – homebuyer’s report, full structural survey and snagging survey.

Mortgage offer! 

Time to celebrate! You’re now in receipt of a formal offer that confirms the lender is willing to lend you the amount agreed to purchase your first home.

At this stage, you must do the following:

  • Review the offer document with a fine-tooth comb – everything single detail must be accurate. If you spot any errors, inform your broker or solicitor as soon as possible.
  • Cross-reference the new mortgage illustration and the lender’s offer document against the illustration you were provided with when you applied for the mortgage.
  • Check the conditions of the mortgage offer, as these will all need to be met before the lender will release the cash.

Get things in order 

Your lender is likely to insist on you buying home insurance, and it might be a requirement of your mortgage. While you won’t necessarily own your property yet, you will be legally bound to purchase it once you’ve exchanged contracts, so it’s a good idea to get this sorted ahead of time.

Exchanging contracts 

You’re nearly there! Now, only contracts are left to be signed, and your deposit is to be paid to your solicitor.

You and the seller must both sign the contract to say you’re the legal owner of the house. Each person’s solicitor will then sign and swap contracts, and you will all provide your signatures on one another’s.

Once these are in place, neither the buyer nor seller can back out. If you do, you’ll lose your deposit money.

Final transfers

Your solicitor will do their final checks before you sign the transfer deed. Once this is signed, your solicitor will draw down the mortgage funds from your lender.

Your solicitor will then send the full payment to the seller’s solicitor and receive their title deeds and prove that the seller’s mortgage on the property has cleared.


Congratulations – you can pick up the keys to your first home!

Final steps 

Whether you’re moving in straight away or carrying out some refurbishments beforehand, you must do the following within any deadlines or at the earliest opportunity if unspecified:

  • Pay stamp duty
  • Register your ownership
  • Receive the title deeds

Take a look at our other articles designed to help you buy a new home:

Self-employed? 5 expert tips to help you get a mortgage

What 95% mortgages mean for first-time buyers

5 Reasons to Use a Broker