How long does it take to buy a house?
It’s no secret that the mortgage process takes a while. With all the applications, paperwork and third-party service providers involved, getting into your new home will likely take a good chunk of time.
In recent years, technological advancements have certainly expedited some aspects of the homebuying process. However, lenders take just as much, if not more caution before handing over money to buy a home. As such, buying a house is still a lengthy affair, taking months to complete from start to finish.
If you’re at the start of your homebuying journey and want to know what to expect, then you’re in luck. Because we’ve got the answers for you, covering every major step along the way.
Homebuying timeline: How long to buy a house
On average, you should expect it to take 30-45 days to close on a house. Your mileage may vary, though. ICE Mortgage Technology found that the average time to close on a new purchase was 51 days in March 2021. And that’s only after you’ve gone through preliminary steps like preapproval and then actually found your dream home.
How long does it take to buy a house from start to finish?
Add it all up, and you’re likely looking at a 2- or 3-month process to buy a house from start to finish, or to go from house hunting to the closing table.
While every situation is different — some homebuyers may need more time to find the right home, for instance — this timetable should give you an idea of what to expect when you set out to buy a new house.*
Steps to buying a house
Find your new home
Submit an offer
Secure a mortgage
Close on a mortgage
9-12 weeks (2-3 months)
Preapproval: 1 week
Preapproval provides a clear picture of what a borrower can afford and acts as a starting point to begin narrowing down affordable home buying options.
It’s best to get preapproved before you even start shopping for a home. Many first-time buyers pick out an ideal home before meeting with a lender. All too often, this oversight leads to unexpected issues, such as a limited borrowing capacity, that cause the sale to fall through.
By seeking preapproval before landing on a home, these adverse issues can be uncovered and potentially resolved before the mortgage process begins to move forward in earnest. With the knowledge of how much you’ll be able to borrow, you can explore buying options with the certainty that the property is in your price range.
To get a rough glimpse of affordability and approval, many lenders offer online prequalification. While not a deeply vetted process, this service can be hugely beneficial to homebuyers as it provides useful insight into your loan approval prospects.
You can also do some legwork of your own to figure out what your homebuying budget should look like. Use a home affordability calculator to nail down how much you can comfortably spend on a new house based on your ideal monthly payments, down payment, property taxes and other housing costs. That way, you’re less likely to run into any unfortunate surprises when it comes time to get preapproved for a loan.
Find your new home: 3-6 weeks
Now the fun can really start. Once you have a preapproval letter, you’ll know roughly how much you can afford to spend on a new home. And that knowledge will help you zero in on homes that fit your budget.
As you probably already noticed from the timetable above, this step has far more variance than any other phase of the homebuying journey. While mortgage lending processes are streamlined as much as possible, there’s just no telling for sure how long it’ll take to find the house you want. You might find your dream home right away, but then again, it could take months if you have a very specific type of house in mind. According to the Home Buying Institute, it typically takes house hunters anywhere from three to six weeks to find the right piece of real estate.
In red-hot real estate markets, you should prepare yourself for potential bidding wars. Losing out on a home to a higher bidder is disappointing in and of itself, but it also means your home search is going to stretch on a bit longer than you might have anticipated.
Local housing market conditions like inventory and consumer demand could impact your search. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for in your desired location, you might need to expand your search to include other areas as well. Alternatively, you might need to rethink your list of must-haves or consider looking at a fixer-upper.
To speed things along, it might be a good idea to work with a real estate agent who knows the local market and can effectively guide your search. Their expert insight will also be valuable when it comes time to submit a compelling offer, negotiate with the seller and coordinate closing.
Submit an offer: 1 week
In a competitive housing market, you don’t have time to sit around weighing your options. When you find the right house, you need to move quickly to get in an offer. Again, working with an experienced real estate agent can be extremely helpful here, as they can consult you on the best way to stand out from other buyers.
Before you officially submit your offer, be sure to have a real estate attorney look over every last detail to check that all of your bases are covered. It shouldn’t take more than 24 hours for your real estate agent to prepare your offer, then another day or two for your attorney to review it.
Expect to hear back from the seller within a few days, if not sooner. Realtor.com asked around about seller response times and got a few different answers from real estate agents and brokers. Some said within 48 hours is typical, while others thought sellers should stick to a 24-hour window.
In some cases, a buyer’s offer is only good for a set amount of time — say 48 hours. All of that is to say you should know one way or the other within a week, although counter proposals could drag things out longer.
Secure a mortgage: 4 weeks
After you’ve met with a real estate agent, found your ideal home and signed a purchase agreement, you’re ready to bring it to your lender for mortgage approval.
As one of the longer steps in the mortgage process, it can also be one of the most nerve wracking. At this stage, you’ve already been looking forward to buying a home for months.
Mortgage process: Key steps to know
- Home inspection
- Attorney review
Just because the seller accepts your offer doesn’t mean the purchase is a done deal. There are a lot of dominoes that need to fall before the transaction can be finalized. First up: the home inspection.
Home inspections are incredibly important for buyers, because they give you an opportunity to spot major red flags like structural issues, electrical problems, pest infestations or leaky roofs that might make you rethink your purchase. Because the sale is contingent at this stage, buyers are often able to walk away from the sale without losing anything more than the cost of the inspection, attorney fees and, in rare cases, the earnest money.
You should also use your home inspection as an opportunity to look for faulty appliances, necessary renovations and other expenses that you’d like the seller to cover. It’s all part of negotiating the best deal for yourself as a homebuyer.
Standard purchase agreements build in a set amount of time for the buyer to conduct a home inspection. Frequently, that timetable is no more than a week, so you need to move quickly.
Before your lender can take your loan through the underwriting process, both your attorney and the seller’s attorney need to come to an agreement on the terms of the transaction. If your home inspection found issues that you want the seller to pay to repair, then your attorneys will negotiate those costs. Your home loan can only move forward once both sides are satisfied. While there’s no set deadline for the attorney review period, you typically expect any outstanding matters to be hammered out within a week or two. That’s assuming you and the seller don’t reach an impasse on repair work that needs to be done.
All of these steps and we’re still not ready for underwriting. Mortgage lenders want to be certain that your new home will provide enough collateral to cover the cost of the loan. And that means conducting an appraisal to check that the home’s market value is within striking distance of the loan amount.
The cost of an appraisal is covered by the buyer and is usually a few hundred dollars. These fees are typically included in the loan’s closing costs, as the mortgage lender will order the appraisal. You may need to pay some or all of that expense beforehand, though.
The appraiser should not only be licensed, certified and qualified, but also familiar with the surrounding area. Lenders require a clear picture of the appraiser’s opinion of value as well as the property’s current condition. Market conditions and recent economic trends also factor heavily in these final estimates.
Scheduling, conducting and documenting an appraisal shouldn’t take too long. You’ll probably have a copy of the appraisal report in your hands within a week.
The final review and verification of your documents is known as underwriting, and can take several weeks to wrap up. During this process, you’ll be continually handing over documentation as requested by your lender as they work out the terms of your loan.
Mortgage lenders want to confirm various aspects of your financial situation, including your income, debt and employment history. To that end, here are a few documents you should be prepared to provide to underwriters.
Important documents you need for underwriting
- W2s and other tax forms
- Bank statements
- Pay stubs
- Mortgage statements
- Property tax statements
- Homeowners insurance quote
Close on a mortgage
Closing day has finally arrived! In addition to filling out tons of paperwork to officially finalize the loan, you’ll also have to pay any closing costs.
Closing costs are the expenses paid at the very end of the homebuying process to finalize the real estate purchase. This collection of fees covers the expenses associated with underwriting the loan as well as the amount paid to any third-party service providers that were involved in the sale, such as title companies. You may also need to pay certain taxes at the closing table, as well as the first few month’s worth of insurance premiums and property taxes.
The good news is closing day is just that — a day. You’re not sitting around for weeks on end waiting for an update from a loan officer, real estate agent or attorney. This is the finish line you’ve been waiting to cross.
What causes delays when buying a home?
The timetable we’ve outlined above is a general framework of what to expect when you buy a house. There are any number of hiccups that could set your own timetable back a few days, weeks or, in extreme cases, months. These are the most likely causes of delays during the homebuying process:
- Inability to get preapproved: Having a preapproval letter in hand will make your purchase offer much more enticing, so it’s highly recommended you get one before starting your house search. But if lenders are hesitant to extend you a loan, getting your financial situation in order — paying down debt, boosting your credit score, etc. — could take a very long time.
- Home sale falls through: Whether a seller rejects your offer, you find major problems with the home or you simply can’t come to agreement on the terms of the purchase, bailing on a sale will send you back to the beginning of your house search.
- Negotiating purchase terms with the seller: Like we said earlier, there’s no set amount of time attorneys need to stick to when reviewing purchase agreements. As such, it’s easy for things to drag on for longer than you might expect.
- Waiting on an appraisal report: Appraisals should only take a week or two to complete, but that’s not always the case. When lending activity is high — such as when seemingly everyone and their mother was refinancing their mortgage during the pandemic — appraisal wait times tend to increase significantly.
- Conducting a title search: Title searches have a similar timeframe as appraisals, but can take longer if title companies are backed up.
- Missing documents: It’s best to anticipate what financial documents your lender will need to process your home loan. Neglecting to submit your income taxes, bank statements and other required information will only set your loan back further.
Buying a house takes a pretty long time when you factor in every step along the way. From the moment you apply for preapproval and start your house search, expect to close on a new home within two or three months. About half of that time will be devoted to the mortgage process: In most cases, you should be able to close on a house anywhere from 30 to 45 days after you submit your loan application.
While a couple of months sounds like a long time, keep in mind that today’s digital mortgages have substantially sped up processing timelines. Often, as the borrower, you can submit digital copies of required paperwork and sign documents electronically. Compared to the mortgage lending environment of old, it’s pretty darn streamlined. Reach out to one of Guaranteed Rate’s qualified loan experts to learn more about digital mortgages and how they can help you close on a new home faster than ever before.
*Guaranteed Rate cannot guarantee that an applicant will be approved or that a closing can occur within a specific timeframe. All dates are estimates and will vary based on all involved parties level of participation at any stage of the loan process. Contact Guaranteed Rate for more information.
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