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Step up on the property ladder: the first-time buyer cheat sheet

As a first-time buyer looking for your first home can be quite a daunting prospect, especially when it comes to figuring out how the buying process works, the various hoops that need jumping through, and the complex terminology used by those in the industry.

Christina Melling, chief executive officer of Stipendium, commented: “First-time buyers are always dropped in at the deep end. But more so today than ever before. The housing market has been so busy and competitive since the pandemic that first-timers can easily feel overwhelmed and frustrated, pushed and pulled in every direction by various property professionals, sellers, and rival buyers.”

“However, a little knowledge can be a powerful thing and simply understanding the sometimes-confusing industry terms that are frequently used is a massive help.”


Melling concluded: “We really believe that people should be given a basic education in property from a young age, but this isn’t likely to happen any time soon. That’s why Stipendium was created - we help to simplify the process, clearly explain the most intricate parts, and connect you with professionals who are going to support you as you navigate your way towards your first ever purchase.”

Although it may seem obvious, the reason for this guide is due to previous research carried out by Stipendium which revealed that 66% of those to have purchased a home in the last six months were unaware of how the actual process worked.

The study, therefore, concluded that 72% of people think that property should become part of the national curriculum in order to have a better understanding of the home-buying procedure when the time comes to step onto the property ladder.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen in the foreseeable future, which is why Stipendium has created a handy cheat sheet to help first-time property buyers get ahead of the game.


Property surveys are crucial to providing you with information on everything that you need to know about the structural state of the property. Is the roof secure? Are there damp issues in the property? Are there any planning restrictions in place which will hinder you from being able to extend the property? Your conveyancer should oversee organising surveys for you.


Due to the many legal processes involved when buying a home, the process of completing them all is referred to as conveyancing and is essential. The conveyancer is the individual who does the work and is classified as a specialist property solicitor.

Ground rent

Ground rent is a fee that you’ll have to pay to the freeholder, who is often the building owner, and this will apply if you’re buying a leasehold property such as a flat.

LTV – Loan to Value

LTV, or loan-to-value, is part of mortgage jargon and represents a percentage figure that measures the proportion of your property that is mortgaged and the amount that has already been paid for with the deposit.

For example, a £100,000 deposit on a £200,000 home would be 50% LTV.


The term ‘chain’ in property jargon refers to when a homebuyer needs to sell their existing home in order to fund the purchase of a new home. This creates a chain where each sale is dependent on the other for the entire process to work out.

First-time buyers won’t contribute to the chain because they don’t need to sell a home to be able to afford a new home, but they can still get involved in a chain.


This is when a new buyer dominates an existing offer that the seller has already accepted from another buyer – an occurrence that happens all the time!


When you hire a conveyancer, you’ll receive a quote from them that details their service costs. However, it’s highly probable that you’ll also have to give them extra money now and then also to complete vital parts of the conveyancing process.

Disbursements are completely normal, but you should ensure that your conveyancer outlines just how much they’ll cost at the start of your relationship.


The legal paperwork which states who owns the property.

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT)

This is the tax paid when you purchase a property, and the amount will depend on the value of the property. As a first-time buyer, however, you don’t have to pay SDLT unless you’re buying a home worth more than £500,000.


A fancy word for seller.

Buildings insurance

This differs from home insurance since home insurance covers everything inside the home, whilst building insurance covers the physical structure itself. For example, if the house burns down, it’s building insurance that will help you to rebuild it.

Best practice would be to establish building insurance at the point your exchange contracts kick in since that’s when you become liable for the property.


Exchange refers to the moment when contracts are signed and both parties are legally bound too the sale. This does not refer to the exchange of house keys on moving day, as many people believe.

Mortgage Agreement in principle

This is confirmation from that the mortgage provider that they are willing to lend money to you. You can show this to a seller as proof that you can in fact afford to buy their house, however, bear in mind that you still have to get your final mortgage approved. The good news is that this should be a fast process having already been accepted in principle.   


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