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 time line 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 Six 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 on 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 (less than one day)
Many people consider browsing real estate sites a guilty pleasure and love to look at real estate trends in various areas around the country, including what homes are selling for and how much home you can get for your dollar. But when you’re seriously in the market to buy, house hunting isn’t always the most fun.
You may be stressed, pressured to compromise, or need to make the purchase in time to relocate your family or get the kids settled before school starts. A study reported by Insight Media found that it takes just 0.81 days of browsing homes before finding one to buy. And most people view about 16 homes online before finding one that they want. The average time looking before scheduling a visit? Right around 4 days.
According to the study, 14% of people said they had to compromise on some aspect of their ideal home. And in today’s seller’s market, where homes in many areas of the country receive multiple offers over the asking price or have a bidding war, a quarter or more of homebuyers may experience an unsuccessful offer, prolonging their home search.
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 and 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 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.