How Long Does It Take To Buy A House? A Step-By-Step Timeline
Everyone’s path to homeownership is different. Sometimes it’s straight and smooth, while other times the process may curve, take a detour, or come riddled with unexpected bumps and obstructions along the way. That’s why no two home buying experiences are the same, and neither are their timelines.
This unpredictability can be a major point of stress for first-time home buyers. Buying a house is far more than a financial transaction – it’s a deeply personal process of finding and creating a home for yourself and your family, so it’s reasonable to want to understand the process before diving in.
So exactly how long does it take to buy a house? Keep reading for a step-by-step breakdown.
Average Length Of Time To Buy A House
According to Ellie Mae, a data firm that processes mortgage applications, the average time to close on a mortgage was 51 days in June 2021.
But although you may be able to close on a home in as little as a month, the time it takes to actually find a home you want to purchase and get your offer accepted is far more difficult to quantify. This is because everyone’s home search will look different depending on their individual wants and needs.
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What To Consider Before Buying A Home
Before you take any steps towards buying a house, you’ll need to ensure you’re financially prepared for the undertaking. And unless you’re planning to buy a house with cash, being financially prepared means not only saving for a down payment and closing costs, but also making sure you can actually secure the financing you need.
Your credit and financial history will determine whether you qualify for a mortgage and at what interest rate, so take the time to review your credit information and build your score, if necessary. It’s also important to consider non-financial elements that may impact your home search, such as the areas you’d be interested in living and the type of home that’s most suitable for your lifestyle.
Step-By-Step Home Buying Timeline
The exact amount of time the home buying process will take depends on several factors – from how prepared the buyer is to how competitive the market is. For instance, in the pandemic housing market, some of these steps may take significantly longer than they did pre-pandemic, due to an unprecedented demand for housing and a low inventory of homes available for purchase.
Still, understanding the steps involved in buying a house can help you be better prepared to move quickly when the time comes. Let’s take a look at the crucial steps that will impact your home purchase!
Step 1: Choose A Mortgage Lender And Get Preapproved (1 – 5 Days)
Unless you’re one of a lucky few who can afford to make all-cash home offer, you’ll probably need a mortgage to finance your home purchase. It’s important to shop around for the right mortgage lender to make sure you’re getting the best deal on your home loan.
Finding the right lender can be done in a day if you dedicate a few hours to the task. Some quick research and a few phone calls can help you understand your options. When choosing a lender, consider interest rates and estimated closing costs – but don’t undervalue the company’s reputation. A great deal on paper might not be worth it in the long run if it comes with unreliable customer service.
Once you choose a trustworthy lender to work with, you’ll want to get a mortgage preapproval. Getting preapproved before beginning your home search can be beneficial for several reasons. First and foremost, a preapproval will help you understand how much home you can really afford. It will also show sellers that you’re a serious buyer, which can be a powerful asset in a competitive real estate market.
To ensure you qualify and determine how much you can borrow, your lender will need to review your credit report and verify your income and assets, so be sure to have tax returns, pay stubs and other documents ready to expedite the process. Depending on the lender, preapproval can take 1 to 5 days.
Step 2: Find A Real Estate Agent (1 – 7 Days)
From online listings to referrals from friends and family, there are multiple ways to go about finding a real estate agent. Finding an agent is simple enough but choosing the right one to work with may be a little more challenging. You’ll want to work with a licensed expert who understands your local market, but it’s also important to choose someone you can trust to prioritize your needs first.
When the time comes to purchase a home, there are usually two agents involved in the transaction: the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent. The buyer’s agent – who would be working with you in this scenario – represents the buyer and does the legwork to help them find a home, make an offer and negotiate with the seller.
You want to carefully select your agent because they will be your advocate throughout the home buying process, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Here are a few that might help you find the best agent or REALTOR®:
- How long have you worked in real estate?
- What makes you different from other real estate agents?
- Will you be able to work with my schedule?
- How much do you charge?
- Do you have references?
- Will I be working directly with you or with your team?
- How will I be able to contact you?
- What is the market like in the area?
- How will you go about helping me find a home?
The time it takes to find an agent will depend on several personal factors. If the agent was recommended to you by a friend, you may not have to go through interviewing and comparing them with others. But if the home buying process scares you a bit, you may take some extra time to find an agent you feel comfortable working with.
Step 3: Start House Hunting (6 Months – 1 Year)
With a trusted real estate agent by your side, it’s time to start house hunting. But before you start looking, take a beat to really understand what you’re looking for. Consider things like your desired location, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you need and set parameters for your search. Finding the right property takes up the largest chunk of the home buying process, so clearly defining your needs and knowing what to look for in a house ahead of time can help to expedite your timeline.
The precise amount of time it will take to find your new home depends on several factors, including:
- The market: If it’s a buyer’s market and there are more homes for sale than there are buyers, you may have an easier time finding a home. But in a competitive seller’s market – meaning there is more demand than there is supply – it may take more time to find the home you want.
- The location: If you’re looking for a home in a highly sought-after location, competition can delay the process. And if the average sales price is more than you can afford, you might end up waiting some time until a home within your budget goes up for sale.
- Your criteria: If you have a long list of must-haves in mind for your future home, it may take more time to find. The more specific and less flexible you are, the more you limit your search. But on the other hand, if you have no idea what you want, it may be hard to find and commit to a home that makes you happy.
- Your schedule: If you’re really busy and can only go to showings on the weekends, it may take you longer to find a home simply because you have limited time to search for one.
Step 4: Make An Offer (1 – 3 Days)
Once you find a house you want to buy, work with your real estate agent to make an offer on the home. At this stage, your agent will run a comparative market analysis to determine a fair purchase price based on recent sales of similar homes in the area – but they’ll also want your input on any other elements you want to include in the offer, such as contingencies or an earnest money deposit.
In some states, the seller may have a deadline to consider your offer and reply – but in general, sellers will typically respond within 3 days. The seller can choose to accept the offer, reject it or make a counteroffer, which would restart negotiations. But once negotiations begin, they typically don’t last longer than a few days. Remember, the seller is usually just as eager to sell their home as you are to buy it.
Step 5: Secure Your Mortgage Loan (30 – 60 Days)
Despite your preapproval, it will take some time for your mortgage lender to underwrite your loan. Mortgage underwriting is the process of analyzing and verifying your financial information, including your income, assets, and debts as well as information about the property you’re buying. This is typically happening while other steps are taking place, including the home inspection, appraisal and preparation for closing.
Once you sign a purchase agreement, you’ll complete a loan application with information on the home you want to purchase. Though it’s the lender who performs the underwriting process, you’ll play a key role in providing information to help things run smoothly. For example, you may be required to provide the following paperwork:
- Income tax documents from the last 2 years
- Bank statements from the past 30 – 60 days
- W-2s, recent pay stubs or other documents that verify your employment
- Gift letter and letters of explanation for large deposits
- Legal documents of court-ordered debts, like child support or alimony
The underwriting process can take a few days or up to a few weeks, and you can have a big influence on just how long it takes. To speed up the process and avoid any snags along the way, we recommend preparing your documents in advance, responding to all questions and requests quickly and refraining from taking on any new debt throughout the process.
Step 6: Get A Home Appraisal (2 – 7 Days)
Once a purchase agreement is signed, your mortgage lender will order a home appraisal. This is an important step of the process, as the appraisal is used to determine the property’s fair market value. Your lender can only fund up to the fair market value of the home, so if it appraises for less than the purchase price, you’ll be responsible for either paying the difference out of pocket or renegotiating a lower price with the seller.
The home appraisal typically occurs while your lender is underwriting your loan. The appraisal itself can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the property, but you don’t need to worry about attending this inspection.
After the home visit, the third-party appraiser will compare the home to similar recently sold homes in the area and create a report. This can take anywhere from a day to a few days, depending on the appraiser. How long it takes to complete the appraisal will also depend on when the lender orders the work and how much work the appraiser has on their plate.
Step 7: Schedule A Home Inspection (3 – 10 Days)
While an appraisal gives you an estimate of the home’s value, the home inspection is an in-depth visual examination of the property to uncover any issues that may need fixing. While inspections aren’t always required by the lender, it’s always wise to have one prior to closing on your new home. After all, inspections can uncover red flags that may indicate an issue that will become a bigger problem if it’s not addressed.
The home inspection can also help you understand the inner workings of your future home, so we recommend attending and asking questions as you see fit. Home inspections usually occur within a few days of contacting an inspector and take a couple of hours to perform. From there, the inspector will need to create a report, which can take up to a few days depending on the property.
Depending on what the inspector finds, you may need to go back to the negotiating table and rework the offer. If there are significant problems within the home, you may want the seller to fix them before you close or lower the purchase price to help pay for the cost of repairs. These negotiations can potentially lengthen your purchase timeline.
Step 8: Do A Final Walkthrough (1 Day)
The final walkthrough – the final opportunity for buyers to inspect a house before closing – is a crucial last step in the home buying process. By this point, you might think you know everything you need to know about your new home, but it’s important to take the time to confirm that everything is in the same or better condition than it was previously.
And if you requested repairs as a condition of the sale, you want to make sure the seller actually completed them before you sign your closing documents.
Step 9: Close On Your Home (7 – 14 Days)
You may not realize it, but there are actually several things taking place as you approach your closing date. Some will involve you, while others are completed by a few teams behind the scenes.
During this process, a title company will complete a title search and property survey to ensure there are no other claims to the property you’re purchasing, you’ll purchase homeowners insurance to protect your new investment, and your lender will draft a Closing Disclosure.
This Closing Disclosure will outline the final terms of your loan, including your APR and what you owe in closing costs, including any escrow fees, title fees, property taxes and lender fees for processing the loan. The exact amount you will pay in closing costs depends on both the loan amount and the tax requirements in your area, but you can typically expect these costs to make up about 3% - 6% of the purchase price.
By law, your lender is required to give you at least 3 business days to read through your Closing Disclosure, after which they will schedule a closing meeting. During the closing meeting, you’ll sign your loan papers, pay your down payment and closing costs, and get the keys to your new home. Congratulations! You’re officially a homeowner.
The Bottom Line
Buying a house is often a long and complicated process, but knowing the steps involved can help home buyers better understand what they should expect with every twist and turn along the way.
Looking for ways to potentially speed up the home buying process? One of the best ways to cut down on time is to be financially prepared to apply for a mortgage. If you’re ready to buy a home, take some time to learn more about the mortgage process today!