How long does it take to buy a house?

Timing the homebuying process from start to finish

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Buying a home can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more. The timeline depends on how long it takes to get preapproved for a mortgage, negotiate with the seller and complete the necessary paperwork.

Let's break down the homebuying process into individual steps so you have an estimate of how long each step might take. Just know that estimates can vary depending on your situation.


Key insights

  • The homebuying process can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more, depending on various factors.
  • The longest part of the homebuying process is typically hunting for your ideal home, which can take anywhere from one to six months.
  • Speed up the process by preparing the right paperwork and understanding which factors are inside and outside of your control.

Get preapproved

Days: 8 to 10

The first step in purchasing a home is getting preapproved by a lender. In most cases, this takes about eight to 10 days. The purpose of a loan preapproval is to determine whether you qualify for a mortgage in the first place.

Speed up the preapproval process by having the required documentation ready to go and organized for your lender.

Additionally, you find out how much money you can borrow and at what interest rate.

A mortgage lender will look at your income, assets and credit score during the preapproval process. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, you may not realize just how much documentation you have to provide when buying a home. A brief look at the list of requirements includes:

  • W-2s
  • Tax forms
  • Credit reports
  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements

That’s just the start of the list. If you don’t have this information ready, it can slow the approval process. You’ll also still need to get full approval when you decide which home you want. But preapproval jump-starts the process and gets you conditional approval for a loan.

Preapproval is not the same as pre-qualification. Pre-qualification is a less intensive process (often a very early step), and the info it provides may not be quite as accurate.

» MORE: How to qualify for a mortgage

Find an agent

Days: 7 to 14

Finding a good real estate agent can make all the difference in the homebuying process. This person can help you find the right home, negotiate a fair price and navigate the entire process.

Finding the right real estate agent can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how many people you interview and how soon you can chat with them. Use these tips to find the right real estate agent — or to decide if you even need one.

  1. Ask for referrals: Begin your search by asking friends, family and coworkers for recommendations.
  2. Research online: Check out online reviews for agents in your area with a good track record.
  3. Interview multiple agents: Interview at least three agents to get a sense of their experience and communication skills.
  4. Check their credentials: Make sure you work with a licensed agent with good standing in the real estate industry.
  5. Consider their expertise: Look for an agent who specializes in the type of home you're looking for and the local area you want to buy in.
  6. Evaluate their communication skills: A good agent should be responsive, attentive and able to communicate effectively.
  7. Decide if you need an agent: In most cases, it makes sense to have a real estate agent. But if the seller is a relative, you know the area well or you’re buying a home directly from a builder, you may not need one.

» READ MORE: Homebuying checklist

Hunt for your ideal home

Days: 30 to 180

Depending on your needs and wants, house hunting can take anywhere from one month to six months, though you can expect to spend around two to three months to find a home that's right for you.

House hunting can be the most fun, but also the most frustrating part of the process. One way to make it easier is by doing your research and having a clear idea of what you want. Make sure you:

  • Only look at homes in your preapproved price range (not your desired price range)
  • Know what areas you do and don't want to consider
  • Know your non-negotiables

Following these steps can help you narrow down your search and avoid wasting time on properties that don't fit your needs.

“My best advice is not to try to find the ‘perfect’ home, because it doesn't exist,” said Steve Nicastro of Clever Real Estate. “Simply try to check off as many boxes as you can.”

You can also use online tools to search for homes in your preferred areas and price range.

Make an offer

Days: 3 to 30

Once you know which home you want, it’s time to put in an offer. This requires sending an offer letter that provides the terms of the sale and incorporates details about the price, whether you want the seller to pay closing costs and any repairs necessary before you close. Real estate agents will typically write the offer for you since they’re aware of the necessary technical jargon.

The offer letter gives the seller the chance to accept your offer. On the other hand, the seller can reject the offer, which means you’ll have to submit a different offer or find a new home entirely. The seller could also provide a counteroffer, which you can accept or reject.

My best advice is not to try to find the ‘perfect’ home, because it doesn't exist. Simply try to check off as many boxes as you can. ”
Steve Nicastro, Clever Real Estate

If negotiations are necessary, this process can take a while. You can expect it to last anywhere from a few days to a month or more. However, if the seller takes your first offer, this can be a quick step toward purchasing a home.

Start the mortgage process

Days: 30 to 60

Once you've found your dream home and have an offer accepted, the next step is to secure financing through the mortgage application process. In total, this can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days and includes getting an appraisal and going through underwriting.

This is also where you'll provide earnest money, which is a good-faith deposit towards the property.

You’ll find that the process looks as follows:

  • Order an appraisal of the property: This ensures its value aligns with the amount you're borrowing. According to Redfin, the actual appraisal takes just a couple of hours, but it can take up to two weeks to get the full appraisal report back.
  • Your application goes to underwriting: Once the appraisal is complete, your application goes through the underwriting process. This is where the lender will scrutinize your financial information to ensure you meet their lending criteria. This process can take a few days to several weeks, depending on the complexity of your financial situation.
  • Your lender will (likely) ask you for more documentation: During underwriting, the lender may request additional documentation, such as bank statements or tax returns. It's important to respond to these requests quickly to keep the process moving forward.
  • You get your loan approval letter: Once you receive approval on your application, the lender will send you a loan estimate, which outlines all the costs associated with your mortgage, including the interest rate, closing costs and any other fees.

This part of the home-buying process can seem intimidating and overwhelming. Going with a reputable and highly reviewed mortgage lender can make all the difference. “Having a team of experts to walk you through the process is very helpful and reduces the stress. And [the lender’s] continued support after closing is an added bonus,” says Gregorio from New York.

» MORE: Best mortgage lenders

Schedule an inspection

Days: 7 to 14

A home inspection is a critical part of buying a property. Unlike an appraisal, which gives an estimate of how much a home is worth, an inspection provides insight into parts of the property that require repairs or replacement. Though inspections aren’t always required by lenders, you shouldn't skip having one done.

An inspection isn’t always required, but it’s highly suggested that homebuyers get one.

If a serious problem turns up during the inspection phase, you can move back to negotiations or even pull out of the purchase. In most cases, your offer letter will cover what happens in the event there are issues.

A professional can inspect the home in a day or less, but you might need to wait for an opening in their schedule. It’s best to plan for a week or two here just to be on the safe side.

» READ MORE: Home inspection checklist for buyers

Close on your home

Days: 1 to 7

Once your loan is underwritten, you’ll receive a document called a Closing Disclosure. This document will contain the terms of the loan, including the interest rate and the amount you need to pay in closing costs.

Closing costs include appraisal fees, insurance, taxes and other fees that come along with the purchase of a home. They typically range from 2% to 5% of a home’s purchase price. Both buyers and sellers pay closing costs and they can be negotiated.

Make sure to read the Closing Disclosure and let the lender know when you’re done. Lenders must give you at least three business days to read the agreement before the closing meeting. Once the time is up, you’ll attend the meeting and make a down payment.

The entire closing process should take no longer than a week, but it could be longer if you run into any of these snags:

  • An appraisal came in lower than the offer amount.
  • An inspection turns up problems that aren’t easily resolved by the buyer and seller.
  • There are issues with the title search, including liens, taxes or debts.
  • The loan offer broke down because of a change in the borrower’s financial situation after preapproval.
  • One of the parties backed out of the agreement.

» LEARN MORE: How to negotiate after a home inspection

Factors that may delay the homebuying process

There are a thousand little things that can delay the homebuying process. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Financing issues: This could include problems with your credit score, issues with your down payment or delays in getting preapproved for a mortgage.
  • Home inspection issues: If your inspector finds any issues, it may take time to negotiate repairs or determine whether to move forward with the purchase.
  • Appraisal issues: If the home doesn't appraise for the agreed-upon price, it may take time to renegotiate the terms of the sale.
  • Title issues: This could include problems with the title search, issues with liens or judgments against the property or other legal issues.

However, there are steps you can take to minimize some of these delays, including:

  • Have all the necessary paperwork ready ahead of time, including bank statements, tax records and proof of income.
  • Communicate any changes in your financial situation to your lender.
  • Work with a trusted real estate agent and lender who can guide you through each stage of the process.

According to Nicastro, your agent and lender must be good communicators.

“It’s also a good idea to set up Google Calendar alerts for important dates like when a home's inspection needs to be completed, key points in the loan's underwriting process, appraisal, etc,” he advised.

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    FAQ

    What part of buying a house takes the longest?

    “By far, the most time-consuming aspect of buying a house is actually finding the right house,” explained Nicastro. “This process involves researching neighborhoods, narrowing down your ideal locations and setting up an MLS search based on your purchase criteria (e.g., budget, home size, floor plan and lot size).”

    It can take weeks or even months before you find the perfect home to make an offer on.

    Is pre-qualification the same as preapproval?

    No, pre-qualification and preapproval are not the same. Pre-qualification provides a rough estimate of how much you may be able to borrow based on very basic financial information. Preapproval is a more detailed process where a lender reviews your credit score and other factors to determine how much you can borrow and at what interest rate.

    Can you buy a house without a real estate agent?

    Yes, it is possible to buy a house without a real estate agent, but it can be more challenging and time-consuming. Without an agent, you’ll need to do more research and legwork to find properties, negotiate with sellers and navigate the legal and financial aspects of the homebuying process.

    Bottom line

    Every buyer and property is different, so the time it takes to buy a home can vary. However, most people will be able to make it through the process in 30 to 60 days. With some luck (and a solid understanding of the process), buying a home may go more quickly than you expected.

    On the other hand, certain factors can hold up closing. Before deciding to work with a lender, ask about its average closing time. Some lenders offer guarantees to close within a specific number of days — and money back if you don’t finish on time.


    Article sources
    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What’s the Difference Between a Prequalification Letter and a Preapproval Letter?" Accessed July 19, 2023.
    2. Redfin, “How long does an appraisal take?” Accessed July 20, 2023.
    3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Review documents before closing.” Accessed Aug. 1, 2023.
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