Buy-to-lets are an attractive option if you’re looking for a long-term, secure project to invest in. Mortgage rates for buy-to-lets in England are very low right now, making this an ideal time to invest in property.

It can be a tricky balancing act to maintain a rental income, keep your costs down and ensure your property appreciates in value.

Every investor’s journey is different but there are some key milestones every first-time investor goes through. This is a basic step-by-step guide to achieving your first buy-to-let property.

What are you looking for?

You probably already know about the advantages of property investment.

It’s very important to start by working out what your personal goals are and how you want to achieve them. Some of these questions might seem best suited to further down the journey, but you are likely to find yourself swamped with information and options. Knowing what you want will really help you make decisions and refine your search for properties and mortgages.

Why do you want to invest?

Are you hoping to building up your assets to plan for your retirement? Do you want to generate an additional cash flow to boost your normal income? Or buy a home you can eventually move into yourself?

If your priority is generating an extra income immediately, you’ll be looking for properties with a high rental yield. If you might want to move into the property, you’ll want to prioritise whether it’s suitable for your family and lifestyle.

What sort of property?

Are you looking for a flat in Central London to let out to young professionals? A holiday home in South England?

If you’re not sure, this isn’t essential yet: the location will determine the type of property you can afford and the tenants you can expect, so you might want to choose a location first.

Most residential lettings are assured shorthold tenancies, but bear in mind that these aren’t the only option: you can also look into short term lets and commercial properties.

How much time can you commit?

The first steps of property investment always need a big time commitment. There are agencies and services that can do some of this work for you, but these will come at a cost.

Your investment will also require ongoing time and attention: you’ll need to manage your cash flow, keep up with your tenants and renew your mortgage. Again, a management agency can help with this, but most landlords find they’re still involved to a degree.

What are your priorities?

Some of these requirements might be more important to you than others. If you know you can’t commit much time to this investment, you may want to dip into your monthly rental yield to hire an agency rather than managing the property yourself. Work out which conditions are absolutely essential for you and where you’re willing to be flexible.

What can you get?

You’ll need to look for a suitable property and you’ll probably also be looking for a mortgage to help you buy it. A lot of these decisions can be difficult so keep your goals and priorities from above in mind.

It’s a good idea to get a sense of how much your ideal property could cost by browsing through real estate listings, but you should start by working out your mortgage options.

Providing a deposit

The deposit is the amount you can pay upfront towards your property. Your bank or mortgage provider will use this amount to determine how much they’re willing to lend you. Most mortgages will require you to provide at least 25% of the property’s value as a deposit – so if you can provide £50 000 upfront, you could borrow £150 000.

Look at how much cash you have and work out how much of this you can put into your investment upfront. You’ll want to keep some cash aside for unexpected expenses with your property or in your personal life – it will take some time for your property to start producing a regular income. You might also have other investments you can withdraw from to build up your deposit.

Getting a buy-to-let mortgage

Most first-time buyers will need to get a mortgage. Buy-to-let mortgages are slightly different to residential mortgages: the interest rates tend to be higher and the Loan-To-Value rates tend to be lower (you’ll have to provide a bigger deposit).

Your high street bank will have some buy-to-let mortgage products but it’s important to browse around and consult a mortgage advisor to find the most competitive interest rates. You can also use a mortgage calculator to get a rough idea of how much you can borrow and the interest rates.

You can set a spending limit for your property using the total of your deposit and how much you’re going to borrow. But you also need to factor in additional costs such as stamp duty, mortgage fees, solicitors’ fees and renovations, so you should deduct these additional costs from your spending limit to determine the maximum asking price for a property you can consider. the asking price of a property can’t be higher than this spending limit minus these additional costs.

Finding your property

You can start by drawing up a shortlist of locations based on your priorities in Phase 1 and house prices available within your spending limit. If you’ve got no idea where to start, it’s a good idea to browse through property websites and magazines for areas with the best-value properties or highest rental demand.

If you already know your ideal location, now’s the time to start looking for properties in your price range.

If you don’t already have a preferred location, it’s best to do some research on the property prices and rent estimates of different locations. Properties in Central London and other cities will be the most expensive, but you can expect to charge higher rent and it’ll be easy to find new tenants. There’s a bit more risk to invest in newly-developed areas, but your property might have much better capital growth.

Your options will also be shaped by your timeline and how much time you can commit. If you’ve got time to renovate, you can look at older and run-down properties. These will tend to be cheaper and improving a property can increase its capital growth, but you might also have ongoing issues like damp and frequent repairs.

If you’re looking for a more hands-off investment, newly built properties can help you avoid this hassle. Some buying agents and investment platforms offer fully-managed properties, so you don’t need to worry about any of the management issues.

How much rent can you get?

You need to estimate the rent a property will yield to see if it will meet your income goals.

Your expected rental income is a key factor in getting your mortgage application approved, because it tells your bank that you’ll be able to use this income to keep up with the interest. Most banks will require your property to yield a rental income 25% higher than the monthly interest payments for your mortgage.

Viewing your property

You’ll end up attending more viewings if there’s a lot of demand from buyers in the area. As a rough guide, buyers can attend anywhere between five and 20 viewings.

Pay particular attention to the property condition and any repairs or renovations you might need to make. You should also see what shops and transport links are nearby, and what the local neighbourhood is like. As this is a rental property, you’ll want to make it as attractive as possible for potential tenants.

Once you’ve found a property that meets your goals, you should register your interest with the estate agent or seller to let them know you’re serious about buying. You can even make an informal offer to get the ball rolling.

Buying your property

Again, you’ll want to focus on getting a mortgage before you begin the process of buying your property.

Getting a mortgage

Now is the time to apply for a mortgage. You’ll first need to work out what the additional costs are likely to be for this particular property – does it need to be renovated or refurbished? This will determine how much you need to ask the bank to borrow.

You can use high street banks and online mortgage comparison sites to find a mortgage that’s right for you. Mortgages can vary a great deal by interest rates, repayment plans and terms of borrowing so this guide can help you navigate the different options and terminology.

It’s also a good idea to engage an independent mortgage broker. They can look at your individual financial circumstances, give you personal advice, and find a mortgage that’s the right fit for you. Independent brokers charge fees, but they might be able to get you a much higher loan or lower interest rate.

You’ll then need to submit a mortgage application to the bank. This will include proof of your identity, financial documents to support your application and details about the property you want to buy. The bank will review these, conduct property checks (mortgage valuation, survey) and then respond with a mortgage offer, which you’ll need to sign and formally accept.

Solicitor

You’ll need to engage a solicitor as soon as you’re sure you’ll get a mortgage offer. Once you’ve accepted your mortgage offer, you can instruct them to proceed with the purchase.

The next steps are mostly handled by the solicitors to protect both you and the seller. You’ll pay your deposit through your solicitor and you won’t even see the cash you’ve borrowed from the bank. However, it’s still important to know what’s going on so you should make sure your solicitor keeps you informed.

Your solicitor will conduct investigations (‘searches’) to check that the seller has the right to sell the property, and then work with the seller’s solicitor to draw up a contract for both parties to sign. You’ll pay a deposit (usually 10% of the property price) when you exchange contracts.

This contract fixes a completion date, which is the day your solicitor pays the buyer the remaining 90% of the property price and the property finally becomes yours.

Letting out your new property

You can start looking for tenants as soon as you’ve got the keys to your new property. Once you’re at this stage, use these guides to help you find tenants and let out your property.