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How long does it take to buy a house?

Timing the homebuying process from start to finish

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Written by Valerie Johnston
Edited by Cassidy McCants
couple receiving house keys from agent

Many potential homeowners wonder: How long does it take to buy a house? The answer varies, but the process is similar for many homebuyers. Below, we’ve drawn up a timeline to help you know what to expect.

Timeline for buying a house

There are several steps to buying a house, from getting preapproved to making an offer and eventually getting the keys to your new home. It’s smart to acquaint yourself with the following seven steps and how they work so you can budget time as you work through the process.

  1. Get preapproved
  2. Find an ideal home
  3. Make an offer
  4. Start the contract process and put down earnest money
  5. Schedule an inspection
  6. Work through closing
  7. Sign all final documents and receive keys

Though there are quite a few steps, it might not take as long as you think to make homeownership official.

Step 1: Get preapproved

The first step in purchasing a home getting is preapproved by a lender. In most cases, this will take about eight to 10 days. The purpose of a loan preapproval is to determine whether you qualify for a mortgage. In addition, you’ll learn how much money you can borrow so you have a better idea of the home you can afford.

A lender will look at your income, assets and credit score during the preapproval process. Each of these will play a part in determining the mortgage you’re approved for. The lender will also provide insight into your interest rate, which is crucial to know as soon as possible when budgeting.

Remember that 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. Preapproval is essential if you want to know how much you can borrow from a lender — and at what interest rate.

Once you’re preapproved, you’ll still need to get full approval when you decide which home you want. The preapproval is merely a way to jump-start the process and get conditional approval for a loan. Work with a lender to verify your information and get a loan estimate before moving forward.

Step 2: Find the home you want

The next step is finding the home you want to buy. This can often be the most lengthy part of the entire process. Depending on your needs and wants, this can take anywhere from one month to six months, though you can safely expect to spend around two to three months to find a home that’s right for you.

If you already know what you want, this can speed up the process. There’s no need to see homes that don’t fit your needs. However, you shouldn’t rush yourself to save time. It’s far more critical to select a home that you’ll love spending time in every day.

One way to make this process easier is by working with a real estate agent. They understand the local market as well as the details of the homebuying process. They can consider your budget and show you homes that you might not find yourself. In addition, agents can assist with negotiations and help you submit the best offer.

Step 3: Make an offer

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 what repairs need to be done before you close. Real estate agents will typically write the offer for you.

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.

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

Step 4: Start the contract process and put down earnest money

Next, the contract process begins. This is also the time when you provide earnest money, which is money you put down before closing as a way to show you’re serious about owning the property. You also might hear this referred to as a “good faith deposit.”

When you enter the contract process, the home will be moved off the market. This allows the transaction to move smoothly until you close and you have the keys to your new home. However, if something goes wrong, the seller will need to list the home again and start over, which can require a large sum of money.

Ultimately, the contract and earnest money protect the seller if you change your mind. In many cases, earnest money is about 1% to 3% of the sales price. It’s held in an escrow account until the rest of the purchasing process is complete. If everything goes as expected, this money will be applied to your down payment and closing costs. This step can take anywhere from a few days to an entire month.

Step 5: Schedule an inspection

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.

If a serious problem is discovered 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. If a serious problem is discovered during the inspection phase, you can move back to negotiations or even pull out of the purchase.

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.

Step 6: Move through the closing process

Now that all the preliminary steps are complete, you can move forward with the closing process. This should take only a week or two in total. Once your loan is underwritten, you’ll receive a document known as a Closing Disclosure. This will provide the terms of the loan, including what you need to pay in closing costs and what your interest rate will be.

Make sure to read this document and let the lender know when you’re done. Lenders must give you at least three business days to read the agreement before the meeting to close on the house. Once time is up, you’ll attend the meeting and make a down payment. You can expect the closing process to last a week or less.

Step 7: Sign final documents and receive keys

The last step is to sign the final documents that make you the owner of a home. This is the time to ask any lingering questions and get clarification on your loan agreement. Once you sign, the home will officially be yours.

That means you can take the keys and start moving in whenever you’re ready. Congratulations — you’re a homeowner!

How fast can you close on a house?

Closing on a home generally takes from 30 to 60 days. However, you might get lucky and have a house of your own in less than a month — or you might have to practice some patience if the process takes longer for whatever reason. Factors that might lengthen the closing process include:

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

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), the process might be done more quickly than you expect.

On the other hand, certain factors can hold up closing. Before deciding to work with a lender, you can 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.

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