It is a tough question to answer due to the amount of different things that can happen but we give our best estimate to how long it could take.
The reason why it is difficult to answer is because there are just so many variants. We do our best to get a rough estimate by breaking the process down into a few chunks.
If you tend to make fast decisions you may think you will be right at the front with 1 week but it is not all down to you, once you have found where to live it may still take you a while to find a suitable home for a number of reasons:
You may be lucky and find the home for you on your first visit, make an offer and be done in the first week but be wary of buying a house without a feel for what else is on offer first.
If you are struggling to find a home you can speed things up by widening your parameters, waiting until the right one comes along or a compromise somewhere between the two.
If you do not need to sell a house to move or the vendor of the house you want to buy doesn't not need to buy a house to move to, such as a property developer, then you are chain free and you should be happy. It is becoming more common now with first time buyers returning to the market so if that is you, lucky you.
However, most house purchases will be part of a chain. What that means is you are hoping to buy a house from the owner but the owner hasn't yet found somewhere to buy, they are still searching. When they find somewhere, their vendor may still be looking for a house and the chain goes on...
Or you may be lucky and be the missing link in an otherwise complete chain and just need no one pulls out. Either way, you must wait for that chain to complete before you can start the legal work.
You would have most likely spoken to a mortgage advisor already to get a rough idea of how much you can borrow to understand your budget. This means they should have already taken a look at your finances so hopefully there wont be any surprises there.
What your mortgage lender hasn't looked at though is the house you want to buy. They will want to have it valued by one of their team so they can ensure it is worth at least what they are lending you in case the worst happens and they repossess your home to sell on and make their money back.
Scrambling one of their in-demand trusted valuers can take some time if it is a busy time of year or your house is in a rural location. This can take up to 6 weeks. Properties I have bought in London tend to have taken less than a week however. If this goes well you will usually get your mortgage offer in a few days.
If you are confident that you will get a mortgage offer you can save time by starting the legal process off before getting your mortgage offer. This will be the most frustrating stage because it usually takes a while and you have little visibility of what is happening and little control.
Solicitors need to instruct searches of the area to find any unknowns such as plans for HS2 to run through your home or that a major underground sewer pipe in beneath your home. Some of these searches depending on the local authority you are buying in can take weeks.
It also seems like in busy times, solicitors take on too much work and don't seem overly motivated to getting your particular case done. I find giving them a call every couple of days helps to ensure they don't let your case slip to the bottom of the pile and you can both stay up to date with progress.
This is largely up to you and others in the chain. Generally it will be in 1 week if everyone is in a rush or maybe 2 weeks so the chain all have time to make their moving arrangements. There will usually be at least a week though as all the banks in this period of time will be transferring money to the solicitors as will you be transferring your deposit. The solicitors will only release funds once their sale has been completed so there is a lot of very important coordination here.
Once the house is yours you are now paying your mortgage on it and is yours to move into. If you have someone buying your home you will need to move out on completion day as it is no longer yours. If not you can take your time waiting for a more convenient day but don't wait too long - it took so much time, effort and money to buy your home so move in quickly and start enjoying it.
You can now see how it can vary? If everything goes super smooth and your mortgage work is done at the same time as some competent solicitors work you could be very lucky and move in 3 or 4 weeks after finding the house for you. I have friends who have managed that and have seen similar stories of this whilst researching.
However, at the other end is 42 weeks and this is a very extreme scenario where literally everything has gone as bad as it could have so don't panic about that figure.
I have been through this a few times personally, both chain free and chained, and it has usually taken 3 - 4 months, which I feel is the norm speaking to other home owners. It is a tough and stressful time, particularly when it gets to the solicitor stage so be ready for some frustrating delays and don't set the date for your house warming party just yet!
If you would like to brag about how little time it took you or moan about how long it has taken you please use the comment box below to tell everyone your opinion.