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10 Steps To Buying A House

15-Minute Read
Published on March 10, 2021
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Buying a house is an important milestone, but for first-time home buyers who don’t know what to expect, the process is often as intimidating as it is exciting. In these uncertain times of high list prices and rising rates, the decision to buy a house may feel even more overwhelming than ever, but we’re here to help.

In this article, we’ll introduce and walk you through each of the key steps to buying a house and walk you through them, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into and how to prepare.

What Do You Need To Buy A House?

Before you start looking for the perfect home, ask yourself if you’re even ready to own a home, financially and emotionally. If you feel you are, next ensure you have what is needed to buy a house. In order to purchase a home, you should have:

  • A strong credit score
  • Money saved for a down payment and closing costs
  • Preapproval for a mortgage loan
  • A qualified real estate agent

Once you’ve drafted up your home buying checklist, started the home buying process and found a property you love, you’re also going to want to make sure you have:

  • All the necessary documentation
  • A clear, comprehensive understanding of what goes into purchasing a house

The process typically involves finding a real estate agent, touring houses and getting a loan, but you might be less clear on where to go, who to talk to or in what order you should be doing these steps. To make everything clearer, let’s go through the home buying process and the order in which you should complete the steps.

How To Buy A House In 10 Steps

  1. Check Your Credit Score
  2. Determine How Much You Can Afford
  3. Choose A Lender And Get Preapproved For A Mortgage
  4. Find A Real Estate Agent
  5. Start The Home Search Process
  6. Make An Offer
  7. Get A Home Inspection And Home Appraisal
  8. Purchase Homeowners Insurance
  9. Do A Final Walkthrough
  10. Close On Your New Home

There’s a lot of crucial transferring of information that takes place during a real estate transaction, and you’ll want to be certain you know enough to be able to advocate for your needs each step of the way. The best way to prepare is to know exactly what to expect. Here are the steps you’ll need to accomplish before you can receive the keys to your new home:

1. Check Your Credit Score

Before you begin the home buying process, you want to make sure you’re actually in a position to take on all that buying a house entails. That’s why the first step is to check your credit score and review your finances.

How Your Credit Score Affects Buying A House

Securing financing isn’t always easy. Mortgage lenders will request a credit report and, based on the information found, will use your credit score and financial history to qualify you for a home loan. It’s important to be one step ahead of them and know where you stand.

Your credit and financial history will dictate whether you’re able to obtain a mortgage and at what interest rate. Buyers with higher credit scores tend to secure better mortgage rates and loan terms, so make sure you understand your credit before getting deeper into the process.

Mortgage Requirements To Buy A House

When considering requirements to buy a house, qualifying for a mortgage is one of the most crucial steps, and you may need a certain credit score to do that.

To obtain a conventional loan, you’ll need a qualifying FICO® Score of 620 or higher. For an FHA loan, lenders may approve you with a qualifying FICO® Score of 500 or better, but you need 10% down. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doesn’t require a specific credit score to buy a house with a VA loan, but lenders can set their own policies. Rocket Mortgage requires a median credit score of at least 580 for VA loans.

Here are some other basic requirements borrowers will likely need to be approved for a mortgage.

  • Good credit history
  • Proof of reliable source of income
  • Debt-to-income ratio below 50%

If you meet only the minimum requirements, you may want to work on improving your credit score before applying for a mortgage, as this can get you access to better rates.

2. Determine How Much You Can Afford

Before you speak with a mortgage lender, it’s helpful to calculate how much house you can afford on your own. A lender will tell you how much money you qualify for, but you want to ensure you won’t overextend yourself.

Typically, experts recommend spending no more than 31% – 36% of your gross monthly income on housing costs. These costs include:

  • Principal: This is the money you borrowed to purchase your home.
  • Interest: This is the fee the lender charges you to borrow the funds.
  • Taxes: You’re required to pay property taxes to the government based on the value and location of your home.
  • Insurance: Homeowners insurance protects your home against any damages. You can add liability coverage and protection for personal belongings within the home.
  • Association dues: These are fees you must pay if your home belongs to a homeowners association. If your home is not a part of a homeowners association, you won’t have to pay this fee.

Down Payment And Closing Costs

Understanding what you’re responsible for paying and when is crucial to a smooth home buying process, so we recommend speaking with your real estate agent or lender to determine which costs you’ll have to pay upfront.

First and foremost, you’ll need to save for your down payment. It was previously recommended to save 20% of a home’s purchase price for the down payment. Fortunately, this hefty number is no longer the standard. The minimum down payment on a conventional loan is 3% and an FHA loan is available with a down payment of 3.5%

Keep in mind that the larger the down payment, the more equity you’ll have, and the lower your monthly mortgage payments can be. By paying more upfront, you can save on interest and be less likely to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). Be sure to weigh your options to choose the right down payment for you. A larger down payment may be great, but not if it means emptying your savings.

The other large expense you need to plan for is closing costs. These are the fees associated with processing and securing your loan. Although the exact amount you need will vary depending on your loan amount and your area's tax requirements, you can generally expect closing costs to be about 3% – 6% of the purchase price.

There are also options for those who are looking to buy a house with no money down.

Calculating Your Home Affordability

To calculate how much home you can afford, consider using the home affordability calculator below. Once you’ve determined how much you can afford, consider the lifestyle you want to maintain and leave yourself a cushion in case of emergencies. Don’t forget about factors like retirement, college funds and family vacations as you do your budget planning.

 

3. Choose A Lender and Get Preapproved For A Mortgage

The next step is finding a mortgage lender and getting preapproved for a mortgage loan. You can – and should – shop around different lenders to ensure you’re paired with the right one for your situation. Doing your research can make a big difference.

Getting Different Loan Estimates

There are often variations in qualification guidelines, interest rates and closing costs between lenders, which is why it’s essential to do your homework. When comparing lenders, ask each one to provide you with a Loan Estimate, which will spell out the loan terms, projected payments and closing costs for your potential mortgage. This form is provided in a universal format, making it simple for you to compare lenders.

Be sure to consider factors beyond the bottom line, too. A lender might be offering a great deal, but it may or may not be worth it if it comes with lower-quality customer service. Buying a house is a long and often complicated journey, so it’s essential to find a lender you can trust to make the process as simple and convenient as possible.

Getting Preapproved

Contrary to popular belief, getting prequalified for a loan doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to obtain a loan. Moreover, not all qualifications are equal. When you get prequalified in the traditional sense, lenders only estimate your finances based on the information you provide.

However, getting preapproved for a loan requires a thorough investigation of your finances that includes verifying your income, assets and credit rating.

A preapproval is helpful because it can tell you how much the lender is willing to let you borrow and estimates the costs of obtaining the loan. Being preapproved also tells the seller you’re serious about buying, which can make a difference if and when you find yourself in a bidding war.

Prequalified And Verified Approval

Rocket Mortgage offers both Prequalified Approvals – think of a traditional prequalification – and Verified Approvals.³ In a Verified Approval, they’ll not only pull your credit, but also confirm your income and asset documentation. A Verified Approval can be issued within 24 hours of receiving the necessary documents.

Having a Verified Approval is important because sellers can be that much more confident your loan will close based on your finances being reviewed by an underwriter.

Knowing what you can afford gives peace of mind, but even more important in a rising interest rate environment is knowing that you didn’t pay more than you had to. That’s where RateShield® Approval comes in.⁴

RateShield Approval is a Verified Approval with the additional feature that you can lock your interest rate in for up to 90 days while searching for a home. Even better, if rates fall at any time during that lock time frame, you have a one-time option to move down to the lower rate. You may see this referred to as a float-down option.

4. Find A Real Estate Agent

While some home buyers might decide they want to buy on their own, having a trustworthy and reliable real estate agent can make things a lot simpler.

Your real estate agent will represent you throughout the home buying process to ensure you find the right home, ask the important questions, make an appropriate offer, have the power to negotiate and receive the necessary disclosures. Perhaps even more important is having a real estate expert in your corner can provide some invaluable peace of mind.

The way to find the right real estate agent is by asking the right questions. Some questions to ask include:

  • How long have you been working as a real estate agent?
  • What makes you different from other agents?
  • How many clients are you currently working with?
  • What experience do you have finding homes in my price range?
  • How knowledgeable are you about my desired area?
  • Are you willing to provide me with references?

Once you select the best agent for you, they’ll look over your approval letter, discuss your budget and help you set your priorities.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, Rocket Homes℠ can help by matching you with one of their Verified Partner Agents. They work with you to find someone with experience finding homes in the area you’re looking as well as someone who works within your budget range.

5. Start The Home Search Process

Once you’ve met with your real estate agent to discuss what you’re looking for, it’s time to begin house hunting. As you browse, keep your priorities in mind. It’s highly unlikely any listing will perfectly match your dream home, so try not to be too picky until you see the houses in person.

Finding The Right House

The first step to finding the right house is knowing what you’re looking for. Make a list of your wants and needs, and rate them in order of importance.

To make your search easier, start out by looking for homes online. By checking out online listings, you can get a feel for what’s on the market and prescreen any homes within your price range, so you’ll only tour places you’re truly considering.

If you’re having trouble finding a house that feels like home, consult your real estate agent. Agents aren’t just experts on helping people find a home; they’re also experts on the local housing market. They can help you set realistic expectations and keep you motivated when you’re feeling like you’ll never find the right house.

Touring Different Areas And Houses

The more houses you see, the more they may all start to blend together. It’s important to be organized and make sure you walk through the various things you like and dislike about each property with your real estate agent. When visiting a listing, take notes and reflect on the house itself and the surrounding area. Some things to consider are:

  • The size, style and physical condition of the home
  • The neighborhood the home is in
  • What your commute would be like
  • The schools in the area

Although a house in poorer condition may seem like a steal, remember that you could be the one who will be left to make repairs. Even homes with outdated appliances can be a nuisance because you’re the one who will ultimately have to pay to replace them – so be realistic as you view each house and thoughtfully consider what you’re willing to live with and what your budget can cover.

6. Make An Offer

When you find a home you want to buy, it’s time to begin the process of making an offer. Ask your real estate agent to run a comparative market analysis to determine a fair price based on recent sales of similar homes in the area. The longer a house has been on the market, the more power you may have to negotiate.

Beyond the price you plan to offer, you should speak to your real estate agent about whether it makes sense to include any contingencies in your offer. A contingency is a stipulation included in an offer that states that the buyer is free to break the contract without any repercussions if a particular condition is not met.

Although sellers sometimes balk at offers made with contingencies, some contingencies are worth making regardless of the seller’s feelings about them.

Mortgage Contingency

If your ability to afford the home is dependent on your ability to obtain a loan, you should include a mortgage contingency in your offer. This contingency will make it possible for you to back out of your offer if you can’t receive financing.

Even if you’ve been preapproved for a loan, you should still write this contingency into your offer. If you don’t, you’ll find that you’re still on the hook for your earnest money deposit regardless of whether you’ve obtained a mortgage.

Home Sale Contingency

If you’re planning to sell your home and require the funds from the sale to purchase this new one, you’ll also want to ask for a home sale contingency. This contingency will provide you with a certain period of time to secure a buyer for your own home.

If you’re unable to find a buyer during that time, the home sale contingency will enable you to rescind your offer and reclaim your earnest money deposit without any recourse. Many sellers will refuse this contingency, but it’s still worth trying in most cases.

Home Inspection Contingency

An inspection contingency is also a worthwhile addition. After you make an offer, you’ll want to get the home inspected to ensure you fully understand the home’s condition. With an inspection contingency, you’ll be able to negotiate the offer based on any needed repairs, but you can also break the agreement if the home needs more work than you can handle.

Work with your real estate agent because you’ll need to make sure that the things you don’t want to be responsible for fixing are spelled out in the contingency.

Earnest Money Deposit

Along with your offer, you’ll be required to provide an earnest money deposit, also known as an escrow deposit. This deposit is money you pay upfront to show the seller you’re serious about the offer and make them feel more comfortable taking their home off the market.

The amount of money included in this deposit can be negotiable. However, an earnest money deposit is typically 1% – 3% of the purchase price. Speak with your agent about what’s common in your area. The money is held in an escrow account and applied to your down payment and closing costs at closing.

If you decide you won’t buy the home for any reason that is not specified in a contingency, the seller gets to keep your earnest money deposit. This is why it’s vital that you consider the conditions in which you may need to pull out of the contract before submitting an offer.

At the end of the day, including a contingency can be the difference between keeping and losing your earnest money.

7. Get A Home Inspection And Home Appraisal

You may think you’ve reached the finish line when your offer is accepted, but a few critical steps remain. From here, you’ll want to arrange for a home inspection and appraisal.

Home Inspection

The home inspection is important, as it will identify areas where major repairs or renovations require immediate attention as well as any work that needs to be completed in the future. Be sure to hire a professional, third-party home inspector to examine the home you’re preparing to buy.

If significant repairs are needed, you can request that the seller complete them before closing. If the seller declines to handle the repairs and an agreement can’t be reached, you may be able to withdraw your offer.

If you’ve included an inspection contingency in your contract, you may be able to negotiate so that either repairs are made, the cost is deducted from the purchase price, or the contract is broken and your earnest money is returned.

Home Appraisal

At this point in the process, your lender will require the home to be appraised before they agree to release any funds. A home appraisal estimates how much a home is actually worth based on comparable sales in the area, market trends, public records and a comprehensive inspection of the property.

Keep in mind that the lender will only provide funds to cover the appraised value of the house, so if the appraisal comes in below the purchasing price, you’ll have to either negotiate the price or come up with the difference, which is one of the many reasons having a mortgage contingency is in your best interest.

8. Purchase Homeowners Insurance

Also in your best interest is homeowners insurance, which works as a safety net to protect your home and finances. Although homeowners insurance isn’t legally mandated, most lenders will require you to have an insurance policy on the home before giving you a loan.

Homeowners insurance covers damage to your home and its surrounding structures as well as stolen or damaged personal property. There are varying levels of coverage, ranging from basic to comprehensive, so be sure to do some research into all available options before deciding which home insurance product is right for you.

9. Do A Final Walkthrough

At this point in the home buying process, you’re probably eager to be done – but don’t neglect the final walkthrough. One last walkthrough of the property can help the buyer if something needs to be fixed by the seller before purchasing the home.

Final walkthroughs typically take place a day or two before closing, allowing you to ensure all agreed-upon repairs have been completed.

10. Close On Your New Home 

The final step to buying a house is, of course, closing on your new home. When that time comes, make sure you review your Closing Disclosure, which will outline the terms, final closing costs and any outstanding charges or fees included in your loan. Your lender will send the disclosure to you at least 3 business days before closing.

During closing, the property title will pass from the seller to you. A closing agent will oversee this process, which typically takes place at a title company, management firm, escrow office or your home.

The closing agent will ensure that all necessary parties are present at closing. The agent acts as a mediator between you and the seller and confirms that all required documents are signed. Once documents have been signed, the agent will ensure that all funds are paid and properly disbursed, including closing fees and escrow payments.

During closing, you have two primary responsibilities:

  • Signing legal documents: This includes the Closing Disclosure, promissory note, deed of trust or and certificate of occupancy.
  • Paying closing costs: This may include fees for your mortgage application, appraisal, survey and title search, and paying your down payment.

After all necessary documents are signed and information is exchanged, you’re ready to move into your new home.

FAQs When Buying A House

Still have questions? Take a look at what other people are asking below.

What is the first step before buying a house?

Step one, as noted at the top of our list, is to check your credit score. Before you get into finding a lender, real estate agent or even looking at homes, you should take a look at where your creditworthiness stands. Good and excellent credit can qualify you for the best loans and interest rates.

Take steps to avoid hurting your credit while home shopping.

What credit score do I need to buy a house?

Mortgage credit requirements can vary depending on the type of home loan you’re trying to get. As stated up above, a conventional loan requires a minimum FICO® Score of 620, where an FHA loan requires as low as 580.

Note that these are just the minimum required scores to qualify for a loan. Aim to have a higher credit score to be eligible for low interest rates.

What is the longest part of the house buying process?

Experts seem to agree that the actual house hunt is the lengthiest step in the home buying process. You can spend 1 – 6 months searching through listings for the right home, sometimes longer. You could shorten the time you spend searching and narrow down your options by knowing ahead of time what you’re looking for in a home.

How long you spend searching for a home can determine how long it takes to buy a house overall.

The Bottom Line: Your New Home Can Be 10 Steps Away

When looking at what is needed to buy a house, there are several steps in the process – from getting mortgage preapproval to house hunting to closing on your new home and, finally, getting ready to move in. While the process can take a lot of your time and effort, it can all be worth it to finally live in a home of your own.

If you’re ready to buy a home of your own, you can see what you qualify for today.

See What You Qualify For

You can get a real, customizable mortgage solution based on your unique financial situation.

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¹ Rocket Homes®is a registered trademark licensed to Rocket Homes Real Estate LLC. The Rocket HomesSMLogo is a service mark licensed to Rocket Homes Real Estate LLC. Rocket Homes Real Estate LLC fully supports the principles of the Fair Housing Act.

For Rocket Homes Real Estate LLC license numbers, visit RocketHomes.com/license-numbers

California DRE #01804478. Hawaii License # RB-23371. TREC: Information about brokerage servicesConsumer protection notice.

² Rocket Mortgage, LLC and Rocket Homes Real Estate LLC are separate operating subsidiaries of Rocket Companies, Inc. (NYSE: RKT). Each company is a separate legal entity operated and managed through its own management and governance structure as required by its state of incorporation and applicable legal and regulatory requirements. 

³ Participation in the Verified Approval program is based on an underwriter’s comprehensive analysis of your credit, income, employment status, assets and debt. If new information materially changes the underwriting decision resulting in a denial of your credit request, if the loan fails to close for a reason outside of Rocket Mortgage’s control, including, but not limited to satisfactory insurance, appraisal and title report/search, or if you no longer want to proceed with the loan, your participation in the program will be discontinued. If your eligibility in the program does not change and your mortgage loan does not close due to a Rocket Mortgage error, you will receive the $1,000. This offer does not apply to new purchase loans submitted to Rocket Mortgage through a mortgage broker. This offer is not valid for self-employed clients. Rocket Mortgage reserves the right to cancel this offer at any time. Acceptance of this offer constitutes the acceptance of these terms and conditions, which are subject to change at the sole discretion of Rocket Mortgage. Additional conditions or exclusions may apply.

RateShield Approval is a Verified Approval with an interest rate lock for up to 90 days. If rates increase, your rate will stay the same for 90 days. If rates decrease, you will be able to lower your rate one time within 90 days. Please contact your Home Loan Expert for additional information. This offer is only valid on 30-year FHA, VA and conventional purchase loan products. RateShield Approval not eligible for clients with a signed purchase agreement, on Charles Schwab loans, or new construction loans. Additional conditions and exclusions may apply.

Victoria Araj

Victoria Araj is a Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage and held roles in mortgage banking, public relations and more in her 15+ years with the company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in political science from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.