A home is most people’s biggest purchase. A thoughtful, thorough, and comprehensive approach will suit you well when it comes to buying the real estate where you’re going to be spending a significant portion of your time.
Once under contract, the typical timeline is about 40–50 days to close on a home. Let’s not forget the steps leading up to that point—house hunting, pre-approval, and application process. Whether it’s your first home, an upgrade from a starter home to something larger, or downsizing after many years, you shouldn’t rush the process.
- Do your homework and figure out what you want and need in a house and how much you can afford.
- Shopping is the easiest part of the process, most people take less than one day before finding a home online they're interested in buying.
- Buying a home takes about 40–50 days once you’re under contract.
The 6 Steps (and Days to Complete Them)
Find an Agent (7 Days)
Most of us know a friend, family member, or colleague who recently bought a home. Ask those trusted sources, and in about a week, you should be able to contact a reputable agent. You’re looking for someone you like and trust and who has a knowledgeable grasp of the available inventory in your desired community. A good agent should help you avoid a bad purchase and see you through the twists and turns of sealing the deal.
Get Pre-Approval (8–10 Days)
Loan pre-approval is required and will let you know if you qualify for a mortgage. You’ll require documents including tax returns, pay stubs, debt, and credit information—and if you’re buying with a spouse or partner, both of you will need these things. You can also apply with several lenders to check for the best rates. During the pre-approval process, there’s a 14-day window in which credit bureaus count credit inquiries as only one since you’re buying a home.
House Hunting (4-5 months)
Depending on your timeline and urgency to secure a new home, Zillow estimates it takes an average of 4.5 months to shop for a home. The timeline varies based on factors such as the time of year, your financing needs, the type of home you’re looking for, and the inventory of homes on the market.
Visit open houses to familiarize yourself with your market and narrow down your list of wants in terms of home type, features, and location. Your real estate agent will also set private appointments for you to view the homes you want to see.
Depending on the real estate market in which you are shopping, a home offer may be accepted the same day, or you may need to sharpen your bidding skills to compete with others on your new home.
According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2020, 23% of buyers said that finding a home in their desired location was difficult or very difficult. As of March 2022, intense competition for homes that upended the U.S. real estate market since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic saw 68.6% of offers on homes nationwide experiencing competing bids.
Questions To Ask
• How long has the property been on the market?
• What is the cost of comparable homes in the area?
• Is the home in a flood zone? Or likely to be impacted by other natural disasters?
• Is there a homeowners association?
Make an Offer (5 Days)
You’ve found the house, and now all you need to do is put in an offer. Your agent will explain everything you need to know, but basically, you and the agent decide on the price you’re offering, and you’ll need the standard 1% earnest money (yes, you get it back if you’re not accepted). Plus, in a tight seller’s market, you might want to bump that up to 3%–6% to show that you’re playing for keeps. You could also include a personalized letter to the owner telling them how much you love the home and why you’re interested in their house.
Get a Mortgage (21 Days)
Your offer is accepted! Now the mortgage process starts. Though the lender you selected can lock in your interest rate, you’re about to jump through more hoops and gather up more documents, like current back statements and work stubs, for the final mortgage documents. Lenders will also require an appraisal and inspection go through the lengthy list of closing expenses and estimate yours.
This process can take up to a few weeks, during which you can hear from your lender via email or phone every few days with a new request. You’ll have to manage your inspection and appraisal reports, and if there are any problems with either, then you may need to renegotiate the price, arrange for repairs, or compromise with the seller on any work that needs to be done. There will be a title search to make sure the home is free and clear of liens, and you’ll be expected to select homeowners insurance and provide the lender with all of the information. Your insurer may even need a pre-inspection before insuring you. There’s a lot to do in these weeks as your mortgage is prepared. One-third of the Insight Media study respondents found that the process took longer than expected.
Close on the House (40–50 Days)
You should have a final walk-through on the day of closing or the day before, to make sure that repairs are complete and nothing has been damaged. Your lender has likely told you how you must pay closing costs—whether to bring a cashier’s check or how you’ll make a digital transfer of the money. You’ll also need a photo ID and a good pen for the pages and pages of documents that you’ll be signing. In the end, keys are put in your hand and congratulations are in order. You’ve bought a home!
What Is the Longest Part of the Home Buying Process?
Actually closing on the home for which you've received a mortgage is typically the longest part of the home buying process. Having a final walkthrough, paying closing costs, handling any inspection or repair issues, and negotiating and exchanging contracts takes, on average, around five months.
What Should You Look for When House Hunting?
While every situation is different, one of the most important things that people look for is a good location. You may want the property located conveniently for work or school, or perhaps you simply prefer a certain area. Other things that many people find helpful to note is curb appeal, the size and layout of the home, the number of beds and baths, and the placement of windows for natural light.
What Are Some Red Flags to Note When House Shopping?
Look for big cracks in the driveway, foundation, or walls. The home shouldn’t feel damp inside or have a musty odor. Check for cracked paint on window frames. Don’t be fooled by staging furniture or baking smells.
The Bottom Line
Buying a home can be complicated and stressful. The better prepared you are for each step, the better your odds are of landing a good home. Gather your documents, and choose a real estate agent and an insurance provider, before you start searching.