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As a first-time homebuyer, you might wonder how long it takes to buy a house. The truth is that the length of time the homebuying process takes depends on factors that are unique to you and your transaction.
How long does it take to buy a house?
To give you an idea of what to expect, learn more about the steps you need to take in order to close on a home — and what you can do to speed up the process.
Here’s a closer look at the average time it takes to buy a house:
- Get pre-approved for a loan
- Shop for a home
- Make an offer and negotiate
- Schedule and conduct inspections
- Get a home appraisal
- Get a title search
- Buy your insurance policies
- Receive final mortgage approval
- Conduct a final walkthrough
- Go to closing
1. Get pre-approved for a loan
How long it takes: 1 to 2 weeks
Before you can start looking for a home, you need to get your financing in order. A pre-approval letter tells you how much money the bank is willing to lend you, so getting one will give you a sense of how much house you can afford.
In order to get pre-approved for a loan, you’ll need to provide your lender with the following financial documents:
- Two years of W-2s (or tax returns if you’re self-employed)
- Copies of your most recent pay stubs with your year-to-date income listed
- Recent statements from any bank accounts in your name
- Recent statements from any assets that you have (401(k), IRA, etc.)
- Recent statements from any recurring sources of debt (student loan, car loan)
- A form of identification
After your lender has these documents in hand, they will take the time to vet your finances — including checking your credit score — in order to figure out how much they’re willing to lend you. You can help speed up this process by getting your paperwork into the lender as soon as possible.
2. Shop for a home
How long it takes: Typically a few weeks to a few months
Once you know what you can afford to spend, you’ll work with your real estate agent to find your new home. Your agent will connect you with homes that meet your search criteria and, when you find a property you like, you’ll go see it in person.
This is where the homebuying timeline really varies. According to the National Association of Realtors, the typical homebuyer using online tools searches for 10 weeks and sees around 10 homes during that time.
3. Make an offer and negotiate
How long it takes: 1 to 3 days
After you find your perfect home, the next step is to write up an offer with your real estate agent. If the seller likes your offer, they’ll get back to you to try and negotiate. You’ll specify how long they have to give you a response in your offer, but the timing typically lands within 24 and 48 hours of receiving the paperwork.
Once you and the seller agree upon the terms, you’ll both sign off on the contract and then the homebuying timeline will truly begin.
4. Schedule and conduct inspections
How long it takes: 7 to 15 days
At this point, the timeline toward buying a house starts to overlap, so it’s possible that you’ll be working on a few different steps at once.
So as soon as you’re officially under contract, you should do your best to quickly schedule all of the inspections that you’ve elected to perform. Keep in mind, it usually takes inspectors a few days to get out to the property, so you’ll want to get on the books with them as early as possible.
The inspections themselves usually only take a couple of hours (except for radon inspections, which can take a few days) and you should get a report shortly after they’re finished.
First, you’ll be given a few days to read over the report and, if any work is required, come up with a list of repair requests. Then, the sellers are given a few more days to respond. At that point, you’ll negotiate back-and-forth until an agreement can be reached.
5. Get a home appraisal
How long it takes: 5 to 10 business days
If you’re taking out a mortgage to buy your home, your lender will probably require you to get an appraisal. An appraisal determines the fair market value of the property. It helps ensure you don’t overpay for the home, and the lender doesn’t lend you more money than the home is worth.
Typically, your lender will order the appraisal and, like inspections, it can take a while for the appraiser to get out to the property. While the appraisal itself will only take a few hours, getting the report back can take longer. As part of writing up the report, the appraiser usually looks up comparables, or similar homes that have recently sold in your area, to get a sense of how much the property is worth.
6. Get a title search
How long it takes: 2 to 3 weeks
Before you can go to settlement, it’s crucial to ensure that no one other than the current seller has a claim to the property and that he or she has the right to sell it to you free and clear.
A title search is there to ensure that any issues — such as unresolved liens or judgments against the property — are resolved before you to close on the home purchase.
As the buyer, you won’t have to worry about this step too much. Usually, your lender will order the title search and insurance policy on your behalf and the fees will simply be added into your loan costs.
In some states, there are additional requirements when it comes to real estate transfers and title insurance policies. So be sure to check with your lender or real estate agent about anything else you’ll need to consider.
7. Buy your insurance policies
How long it takes: 1 to 7 days
One thing you’ll be responsible for is buying any insurance policies that are required by your lender. Usually, a simple homeowners insurance policy is all that’s needed, but depending on where your new home is located, your lender (and state/federal law) might also require additional policies that cover other events that homeowners insurance policies exclude, like flood insurance, wind insurance, or earthquake insurance.
Once you sit down to do it, the actual process of ordering a policy shouldn’t take more than an hour or two. However, it’s important to take some time to shop around. You’ll want to find the policy that best matches both your coverage needs and your price point.
8. Receive final mortgage approval
How long it takes: 2 to 3 weeks
Getting pre-approved for a loan isn’t the same thing as a guarantee that you’ll be given one. You still need to officially apply for the loan and lock in your interest rate.
According to Ellie Mae’s February 2020 Origination Insights Report, it takes 45 days, on average, to close on a home once a loan application has been submitted. You can help speed up the process by completing the lender’s requests as quickly as possible.
After all of the conditions for your loan have been met (getting a satisfactory appraisal, receiving a clear title search, buying all required insurance, etc.) the lender will issue you a final loan approval, what they call the “clear to close” in the industry. Usually, this happens within a few days of your closing. And as long as nothing substantial changes with your finances and credit profile before closing, you should be able to close on your loan and home purchase with few, if any, issues.
9. Conduct a final walkthrough
How long it takes: 1 to 3 hours
Shortly before closing, your real estate agent will arrange for you to visit the property one more time. During this visit, you should verify the following:
- All systems and mechanicals (heating/cooling, electric, and plumbing) are in working order
- Any agreed-upon repairs have been completed
- The home is clean and any items that aren’t supposed to be left behind have been removed
Afterward, your agent will have you sign a form stating that the property’s condition is acceptable. That said, if something is amiss, you can hold off on signing until you and the seller can agree on a solution.
10. Go to closing
How long it takes: 1 to 2 hours (but the loan process from application to closing can take 30 to 60 days — sometimes longer)
The last step to buying a home is attending the closing. During closing, you’ll sign all of the final paperwork and provide any cash you’re required to bring to close on the deal.
After closing, whoever is managing the funds (usually a settlement agent, escrow company, or title company) will disburse all funds, including your mortgage, minus any fees retained by the lender to cover its loan fees and third party fees, to the appropriate parties.
After it’s all over, you’ll be given the keys to your new home and you’ll officially be a homeowner. Congrats!