You might be ready to sign on the dotted line and move into a home tomorrow, but just like finding the right property, getting approved for a mortgage takes time. Here’s how long the process can take.

How long does it take to get a mortgage?

The average time to close a mortgage for a home purchase was 51 days as of June 2021, according to ICE Mortgage Technology. By comparison, closing a refinance took 48 days.

That doesn’t necessarily capture the entire timeline, though. Prior to getting approved for a mortgage, you’ll need to find mortgage lenders, explore loan options and get preapproved. A preapproval is a statement that a lender has conducted a preliminary review of your basic financial circumstances and is ready to loan you a certain amount. With some lenders that have an automated preapproval process, you can get preapproved in just a few seconds online. Others might take a day or two.

Once you’re preapproved, you’ll submit an official loan application. That’s when the process might begin to inch toward that 51-day average.

Why does the mortgage loan process take so long?

Getting a mortgage requires an inside-out review of your finances, including all income sources and any assets and debt you have. This thorough evaluation takes time, and if any part of your financial life can’t be substantiated, that can create delays as your mortgage lender assesses your risk as a borrower.

Similarly, if you have credit issues, you might have to step back from getting a mortgage altogether and take some time to improve your creditworthiness.

Within the process, there are also other factors that can impact a lender’s ability to issue a final approval for a loan, explains Peter Boomer, a mortgage executive at PNC Bank, including:

Still, not all mortgages take a long time to get to the finish line.

“Some close in as few as seven [days],” says Hanna Pitz, senior policy advisor at the Mortgage Bankers Association. “It all depends on the complexity of the underwriting and the ability of the borrower to produce the right documents at the right time. The more straightforward the borrower’s financial life is, and the more it is documented online, the easier it is for the lender.”

Steps in the mortgage loan process

If you’re just starting the mortgage loan process, here’s a rundown of everything to expect.

An illustration of the steps in the mortgage loan process
Illustration by Austin Courrege/Bankrate

1. Origination 

The mortgage origination is the first step in buying a home (or refinancing a mortgage), when you’ll request a preapproval and then complete a formal application. Be ready to share documents about your financial situation with your mortgage lender, including W-2 forms from the past two years, recent pay stubs, recent statements from all of your banking and investment accounts and any other information that proves how much money you currently have and what you bring home on a regular basis.

2. Appraisal 

Whether you’re buying a home or refinancing, your lender needs to know the value of the property because it’s the collateral for the loan. (If you default, your lender can sell the property to recoup its money.) As such, your lender will order an appraisal to determine the home’s worth. In this process, an appraiser visits the property and issues a formal report with an official estimate of its value. While the appraisal itself might not take more than an hour, the report can take a bit of time to be completed — longer than a week, in some cases.

3. Home inspection 

Around the same time as someone is verifying the value of the property, you’ll hire a home inspector to identify any issues with the home — poor plumbing or bad electrical wiring, for example. This process can take a few hours, but longer if the property is bigger.

In today’s market, some buyers are waiving the home inspection to get their offer accepted. While this might increase your odds of striking a deal, it also comes with the risk of not knowing any major pitfalls with the property you’re buying.

4. Title search

Your mortgage lender will also order a title search of public records to understand the transfer of ownership of the land and the property. This ensures that you have a clear title, which means that no one else can claim that they have a stake of ownership in the property. If there are problems with the title — an unresolved property line dispute or a past tax lien, for example — this can add more time to the process while the issue is being remedied.

5. Underwriting

While others are evaluating the property, your mortgage lender’s underwriting department is busy evaluating your finances. The underwriting process is an in-depth review of your personal finances to gauge your risk as a borrower. The underwriter looks at your other debts, such as credit card balances, student loans or car loans, to understand how much money you have available to pay for those obligations, in addition to your new mortgage payment. The underwriter also examines your past credit history to identify any red flags such as late payments. If your finances are more complicated — perhaps you’re self-employed — underwriting can take a bit longer.

If all goes well in underwriting, you’ll be conditionally approved for the loan. At this point — and if the appraisal and inspection don’t present issues — you’ll simply wait for the closing day to finalize your new mortgage.

6. Closing

If you’re buying a home, the closing is the final step before the keys are officially yours. If nothing’s changed in your financial situation since you were conditionally approved, you’ll be deemed clear to close.

The closing typically happens in-person with attorneys present, although there are some lenders that can do e-signings from a remote location. Regardless, you’ll sign a mountain of paperwork that makes you legally responsible for paying back the loan, as well as settle closing costs. This process can take as little as 30 minutes or up to a few hours.

It’s important to be realistic about setting a closing date. It’s not all about you — if you’re buying a home, the seller might need additional time to move, for example. Look at the calendar and try to identify a date that feels comfortable for everyone involved. If you can set it at the end of the month, you might be able to avoid paying additional interest at closing, and time it well with ending a lease if you’re renting.

When to begin the mortgage loan process

In addition to actually getting approved for your mortgage, there is another step to consider in your timeline if you’re buying a home: finding the right one and getting your offer accepted. The best way to think about beginning the mortgage loan process is understanding how long your preapproval lasts. Some lenders issue preapprovals that last for 90 days, but others have shorter time frames between 30 days and 60 days. Make sure you are leaving yourself ample time to browse properties.

Additionally, consider whether you want to lock your mortgage rate. Rate locks promise not to increase your rate even if the market changes and rates go up, but they also come with the need to hit your closing deadline before they expire.

How to avoid delays or shorten the mortgage loan process

While some steps in getting a mortgage are out of your hands, you have some control over speeding up the process.

“Borrowers can be their own allies here by keeping several factors in mind,” Boomer says: “Provide documentation early, [and] respond to lender requests as soon as possible. If you’re buying a home, make sure your Realtor is engaged with property comps.”

Additionally, avoid any major financial moves once the loan process officially begins.

“Avoid unnecessary or unexplained large deposits or withdrawals on bank accounts,” Pitz says. “Avoid unnecessary large purchases — particularly if they are financed. These are the types of activities that could affect your credit score or could require additional explanation and documentation during the review process. At worst, they could disqualify you.”

Even if you do everything in your power to keep your mortgage loan process on track, there could still be bumps in the road to closing. In fact, according to data from the National Association of Realtors, 26 percent of mortgages are delayed. Those delays can be attributed to a range of factors, including issues with the appraisal, trouble securing financing, challenges with the title and more.

If you’re concerned about meeting your closing timeline, Boomer recommends reaching out to the other key parties who want to see the transaction cross the finish line.

“If time is running short on a closing date, borrowers should work with their lender to try to extend their interest rate lock and work with the seller to extend the date the sale will settle on,” Boomer says. 

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