But one big step buyers can take prior to getting the ball rolling is ensuring they have soaked up all the knowledge they need to ease the strain of the home-buying process. And when it comes to Stamp Duty, knowing the finer details can really help with working out your finances, not to mention ensuring you make the right offer for you when taking the plunge.
WHAT IS STAMP DUTYAnyone in England and Wales buying a residential property or piece of land costing more than £125,000 (or £40,000 in the case of second homes) must pay Stamp Duty Land Tax on the purchase.
The tax effects those buying both freehold and leasehold properties and applies to those buying in cash as well as with a mortgage.
North of the border in Scotland, buyers pay Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT), while over the Severn Bridge in Wales, the tax is referred to as Wales Land Transaction Tax (LTT).
HOW MUCH WILL I PAY?That depends on the purchase price - and that's where having the knowledge can pay off when considering where to pitch your offer.
There are rate bands for Stamp Duty, which is calculated on each part of the purchase price falling within each band.
So, if you buy a property for £300,000, the Stamp Duty you will owe is as follows:
* 0% on the first £125,000 = £0
* 2% on the next £125,000 = £2,500
* 5% on the final £50,000 = £2,500
Total Duty: £5,000
Buyers of second homes or additional buy-to-let properties in the case of portfolio landlords must pay an extra 3% Stamp Duty on top of those rate bands, which applies for properties purchased for £40,000 or more.
It's also worth considering that, should there be a delay in selling your home before you complete on your new property, you would be classed as a multiple homeowner and would be liable for the higher multiple owner rate.
However, you can request a refund as long as you sell your home within three years and you claim the refund within three months of the sale completing.
BUT I'M A FIRST-TIME BUYERYou should have said!
For the purposes of Stamp Duty, first-time buyers are classed as those who are purchasing their main and only residence and have never owned a freehold or leasehold property in the UK or abroad.
Following Chancellor Philip Hammond's autumn budget in 2017, changes to Stamp Duty policy mean first-time buyers are able to claim Duty relief on any property worth up to £300,000. If you fall into that bracket, that could mean a rather large saving of £5,000.
Moreover, if you are a first-time buyer lucky enough to be able to afford a property costing up to £500,000, you'll pay no Stamp Duty on the first £300,000 of the purchase price.
So, if you are buying a home worth £450,000, you will only pay Stamp Duty on £150,000, which works out as follows:
* 0% on the first £300,000 = £0
* 5% on the next £150,000 = £7,500
Total Duty: £7,500
If you were a non-first-time buyer with the same purchase price of £450,000, your Duty would work out at £12,500 - meaning a saving of £5,000 for those taking their first steps on the property ladder.
BY THE WAY, I'M MARRIEDThat's great, congratulations! But married couples wishing to take advantage of Mr Hammond's autumn generosity would both need to be first-time buyers to be eligible for the relief.
Unmarried couples are eligible for the relief, but only if the sole person on the mortgage deed is a first-time buyer.
However, if the mortgage deed is in one name, only that person's income would be taken into account by the lender and could impact the amount they are willing to lend.
Moreover, if the relationship were to end, only the property owner would have a claim - meaning one person could be left with nothing legally.
WHEN DO I NEED TO PAY THE DUTY?A Stamp Duty Land Tax Return must be submitted along with payment within 30 days of the completion of your property purchase or HMRC could charge penalties and interest.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER WAYS OF AVOIDING OR LOWERING STAMP DUTY?The best way to keep your Stamp Duty liability at a minimum is to purchase a property for less than £125,000 - but in most areas of the UK, £125,000 doesn't get you a whole lot of property.
This is where having the knowledge comes in handy... if your purchase price is only a few pounds inside a higher band, ask the vendor or agent if they would accept a slightly lower offer. It could save you a substantial sum and will cost the vendor very little.
FAIR ENOUGH, SO HOW DO I PAY THE TAX?Thankfully, in most cases your conveyancer will deal with paying money owed and the Stamp Duty return, although you can do it yourself if you wish!
Regardless of who takes on the work, though, YOU are responsible as the buyer for ensuring HMRC receives everything on time.
If you have any questions about stamp duty or buying a property, you can speak to your local Martin & Co branch who will be happy to help.