House buying terminology explained in plain language

Last updated: April 2024 | 3 min read

House buying terminology is the language of property transactions. The words and phrases used hold specific meanings, often governed by legal definitions.

Without comprehension of this terminology, buyers can find themselves unsure of their rights, obligations, and the status of their transactions.

Let's simplify the complex language of property buying.

Stepping into the house buying process? Understand key phrases like mortgage agreements and property rights with this article. Whether you're exploring buying a house with a partner or friend or deciphering what does sold STC mean, we'll guide you through the jargon.

Why house buying terminology matters

Lacking an understanding of this terminology, purchasers may feel uncertain about their entitlements, responsibilities, and the progress of their transactions.

For instance, a term like "stamp duty" relates directly to tax paid during the purchase of a property. Alternatively, "land registry document" denotes a legal document confirming ownership of a property.

A clear understanding of these terms helps ensure smooth transactions and informed decisions.

The need for clarity in property transactions

Property transactions involve multiple stages, documents, and legal agreements. Each phase has its terminology, from the initial viewing with an estate agent to the final exchange of contracts. When a buyer grasps these terms, they can engage confidently in discussions, ask relevant questions, and understand the documents they encounter.

Consider the difference between a "leasehold property" and a property owned outright. The former means the buyer owns the property but not the land it stands on, often leading to ground rent obligations. Knowing this distinction can significantly impact a buyer's long-term financial plans and property aspirations.

It's evident that clarity in property transactions isn't just a luxury; it's a necessity for informed choices.

Mortgage basics: from loan to repayment

What is a mortgage loan?

A mortgage loan provides funds to buy property, with the property itself acting as security for the loan. In the event of missed mortgage payments, the mortgage lender can repossess the property.

How do mortgage lenders operate?

Mortgage lenders grant loans to property buyers. Their primary concern is ensuring the borrower can meet the mortgage payments and that the property is worth the amount lent. These lenders can be banks, building societies, or specialist mortgage companies.

Mortgage company vs. building society

Mortgage companies tend to operate for profit and are typically businesses or banks.

Building societies, on the other hand, are mutual organisations. This means they are owned by their members rather than shareholders. Both types can offer mortgage loans, but their objectives and structures differ.

Types of mortgage loans

Fixed rate mortgage

In a fixed rate mortgage, the interest rate remains constant for a predetermined period. This means monthly repayments are consistent, providing certainty for the borrower.

Interest only mortgage

With an interest only mortgage, borrowers pay only the interest on the loan monthly. The principal remains unchanged. When the loan term concludes, the borrower must repay the original amount borrowed.

Repayment mortgage

Repayment mortgages combine both the property's principal and interest in monthly payments. Over time, the borrower reduces the loan amount and owns more of the property outright.

A mortgage deed is a key legal document

A mortgage deed establishes the legal agreement between the borrower and the lender. This document details the terms and conditions of the mortgage, ensuring both parties are legally bound to uphold them.

Early repayment charge: what to know

An early repayment charge can apply if you repay your mortgage before the agreed term ends. Lenders impose these charges to compensate for the loss of future interest payments. Always review the terms of your mortgage offer to be aware of potential charges.

Land registry ensures that your ownership of a property gets officially recognised.

Land registry: recording legal ownership

Land registry is a governmental department responsible for maintaining a record of the ownership and interests in land across England and Wales. Whenever you buy a property, you'll encounter the term "land registry". This department oversees the recording of legal ownership, ensuring every property transaction gets appropriately documented.

How legal ownership transfers

Transferring legal ownership is a significant step in the house purchase process. It signifies that both the property and the rights associated with it are now in your name. The act of transferring ownership is documented in a process called the "exchange of contracts". Once completed, the legal process ensures that the title of the property transfers from the seller to the prospective buyer.

Legal documents every buyer should know about

During your property journey, you'll come across a myriad of legal documents, each carrying specific information and significance. There is a list of documents which the buyer receives including the following:

Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

An Energy Performance Certificate evaluates the energy efficiency of a property. Before putting a property on the market, sellers must have a valid EPC. This certificate offers potential buyers, insights into the home's energy performance, helping them gauge potential energy bills.

Deeds and title deeds

Title deeds are formal documents that prove a person's right to ownership of a property.

These deeds contain details about the property's history, including past owners and any mortgage owed on it. Always ensure you have access to these deeds, as they play a pivotal part in the legal document relating to the house purchase.

A transfer deed is a land registry document that transfers legal ownership from seller to buyer.

Mortgage deed: the agreement with your lender

When you secure a mortgage loan, you'll sign a mortgage deed. This legal document contains the terms and conditions of your agreement with the mortgage lender.

In essence, it details the mortgage lender's interest in the property, specifying that they have a claim to the property should you default on the loan. Ensure you're clear on every term within this agreement; after all, it binds you legally to your mortgage lender.

The role of professionals in house buying

Estate agents frequently oversee property sales. Your first step will be to register with an agent. A brief overview of their functions can enlighten you on how they become instrumental in these transactions.

Estate agent's work from listing to sale

When selling a home, many enlist the expertise of estate agents. Upon getting a property listing, the estate agent markets it to potential buyers. They may work alone, referred to as a single estate agent, or collaborate with others, termed as a joint agency or two estate agents.

Once an offer is made, the agent liaises between the buyer and the seller until a deal is agreed upon, often 'subject to contract', which means the agreement isn't legally binding until contracts are exchanged.

Conveyancer vs. solicitor: who does what?

The process of buying and selling homes involves the transfer of legal ownership. This necessitates the involvement of legal professionals.

Conveyancers specialise in these transactions, handling tasks like searching local authority records and ensuring the transfer deeds are in order.

Solicitors, on the other hand, are legal experts capable of conveyancing but can also advise on additional legal matters that may arise. Choosing between the two depends on your circumstances (learn more about their specific roles).

Who sets the market value? Meet the surveyor

A property's market value is assessed by a qualified surveyor. These professionals conduct structural surveys, which evaluate a property's condition, and full structural surveys, which go deeper into potential issues.

Their evaluations influence the mortgage offer you might receive from a lender.

Independent financial advisor

When seeking a mortgage, an independent financial advisor provide advice tailored to your financial situation. They scour the market to find deals, helping you comprehend the intricacies of interest rate variations and annual percentage rate implications.

Property ownership types

Freehold vs. leasehold

Freehold ownership

This means you own the property and the land it stands on. No need to pay rent for the land or fear the lease duration running out.

Leasehold property

In this the owners don't own the land. They have a lease from the freeholder, sometimes for decades or centuries, but when the lease expires, property ownership reverts back to the freeholder.

Ground rent is a term associated with leasehold properties. It's the fee leaseholders must pay to the freeholder. This isn't a purchase of the land, but rather a payment for its use.

Maintenance or service charge is an annual fee paid by homeowners. Living in a property sometimes involves additional charges. Maintenance or service charges cover the upkeep of communal areas and services, often levied by housing associations or property management companies.

Joint tenancy and tenants in common

Owning property with someone else introduces more terms. Joint tenancy signifies that each owner has an equal share, and if one dies, their share automatically passes to the other owner(s).

Each of the tenants owns a specific share, which might differ in size, and this doesn't automatically pass to the other owners upon death. This distinction can influence future owners' rights and responsibilities.

Fees, taxes, and additional costs

Stamp duty land tax (SDLT)

Stamp duty land tax is a tax on the purchase price of a property. When buying a property in the UK, you might need to pay this tax, especially if the property's value exceeds a certain threshold.

The amount you pay is based on the property's purchase price, with different bands determining the rate. It's essential to account for this tax when budgeting for a property purchase, as it can add a significant amount to your upfront costs.

Land registry fees

When you buy a property, the land registry fees ensure your ownership gets recorded officially. The land registry maintains a comprehensive and updated record of all property ownership in England and Wales.

The fee varies based on the property's price and whether it's a new registration or an update to an existing one. Ensure you're aware of these fees as they're a standard part of the buying process.

Search fees: from local council records to environmental factors

Search fees are payments made to various organisations for the information they provide about the property you're purchasing. These fees cover various searches that look into aspects of the property, its history, and the surrounding area.

Local authority search ensures the property's legality

A local authority search is one of the standard search fees. It provides information from the local council about any planning, highway, and other related matters that might affect the property. This search ensures that the property you're about to buy doesn't have any undisclosed issues that could impact its value.

Final thoughts and expert advice

Tips for staying informed during your property purchase:

  • Regularly communicate with your estate agent and solicitor, ensuring they explain any unfamiliar terms.

  • Always read any document before signing and ask questions if something isn't clear.

  • Stay proactive. Use online resources, forums, or community groups to gain insights from others who have recently gone through the buying process.

  • Consider attending a homebuyer's seminar or workshop. These events can provide valuable insights and tips from industry professionals.

Questions to ask your estate agent and solicitor

Engaging with your estate agent and solicitor ensures a smoother purchasing journey. Here are some questions you might consider:

  1. Are there any potential issues with this property that I should be aware of?

  2. What's included in the property sale?

  3. How long has this property been on the market, and have there been any price changes?

  4. What's the local area like in terms of amenities, schools, and transport?

  5. How can I best prepare for the next stages in the buying process?

Remember, the more informed you are, the better decisions you can to find your dream home

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