Buying a home is an exciting endeavor, and also one that can take longer than many people expect, thanks to all the legal and financial steps that must be taken before the sale is finalized.
Getting all those boxes checked can take as short as a month, or as long as six months, depending on a number of factors.
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage
Filling out paperwork about your income, assets, and credit history is a necessary step to getting preapproved for a mortgage. Preapproval will cut down on the time it takes to buy a house, as you will have taken care of much of the required paperwork in advance.
However, the preapproval process itself can be quite lengthy, taking one to three weeks to complete. You can speed up the process by having your important information—including your credit report, pay stubs, and bank account information—organized and ready to go.
Finding a home
Once you’re preapproved for a mortgage, you can start looking for homes in your price range. Shopping around for the home of your dreams can take as little as a few days or as long as a few months, depending on how many homes are available in your local market, and your specific needs.
Negotiating a contract
Once you’ve chosen a house to buy, your real estate agent will help you fill out the necessary paperwork to put in an offer, which the seller can either approve, reject, or counter. You will usually get an answer within one to three days. If the offer is approved, you can move on to the next step—dealing with inspections and appraisals. If it’s rejected or countered, the negotiation process might drag on for a few more days.
Most contracts require that you get the house inspected and appraised before going forward with the sale—it’s in the buyer’s best interest to include these steps. This part of the process can take up to two weeks to complete, and generally must be wrapped up before the closing process can happen. If issues crop up at this stage, such as an appraisal value below the value in the purchase offer, or major problems found during the home inspection, the purchase may be delayed or even cancelled.
Other conditions could slow things down further at this point. For example, your contract may require that the seller repair the roof before closing, or that the home undergo a pest inspection.
The closing process
Once the offer is approved and the inspection and appraisal are satisfactorily completed, your lender will begin the closing process. The average time it takes to close a mortgage is 50 days, so don’t make any plans that depend on moving into your new home right away. If you were preapproved for a mortgage, the process is likely to take closer to 30 days, since much of the paperwork has already been taken care of.
Even if you’ve been preapproved for a mortgage, you will be required to provide additional documents during this period. You can help move things along by having important paperwork such as your tax returns on hand. If there have been major changes in your credit report or financial situation since you began the process—for example, if you took out a new loan, changed your marital status, or had a lien filed against you—expect further delays that will make it take even longer to buy a house.