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What happens after you submit an offer on a house? A timeline

Young couple looking at a home for sale, standing outside a stone front porch
Lifestyle Visuals/Getty Images
Young couple looking at a home for sale, standing outside a stone front porch
Lifestyle Visuals/Getty Images

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After shopping around for a home, you’ve finally found the perfect one and made an offer. Congratulations! But the homebuying process isn’t over yet — far from it. After making an offer, there are several more steps to navigate through before you receive the keys to your new home. Here’s a timeline for closing a house, with everything to expect after you’ve made an offer.

You made an offer: What now?

After making an offer, you may feel like you’re stuck in a holding pattern waiting for the seller’s reaction. What will they say? The wait can be stressful, but be patient — the ball is now in the seller’s court. It’s time for them to review your offer, along with any others received, and decide how to respond.

“The seller can choose to either accept, counter or reject your offer terms,” says Jen Horner, a Realtor with RE/MAX Masters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Most offer letters include an expiration date in them, but you can generally expect a response within three days or so.

Negotiations

Amid the highly competitive housing market of the past few years, it was not unusual for sellers to have their pick of multiple offers. Bidding wars were common, and many buyers were leading with their “highest and best” offer upfront in order to stand out from the competition, says Horner. This made the need for negotiating far less common.

Now, however, the dynamics at this step of the process are beginning to change. “Sellers receiving multiple offers had the opportunity to pick the cleanest option,” says Horner. “Now that we’re moving back into a normalized market, though, more negotiations are back in play.”

A counter-offer from the seller is a common start to negotiations. In such cases, the seller responds to a prospective buyer’s bid with either a higher price request or a specific date for the buyer to take possession of the home. As the buyer, the ball is back in your court now: You can choose to either accept, reject or make another counter of your own.

“Counter-offers can go back and forth between the buyer and seller until they settle on agreed upon terms,” says Horner. “This back-and-forth might be succinct and tied up in a day or two. Or, in some situations, it can drag on for several days — or never be realized if one party decides to hold firm on their terms.” Having an experienced real estate agent working on your behalf can be crucial during these types of negotiations.

Financing

Your offer has been accepted! Now let’s talk about how you’ll pay for the house.

Ideally, before you reached this step you obtained preapproval for a mortgage and crunched the numbers to make sure the home is within your approved budget. You probably even included the preapproval letter in your offer to make your bid stronger.

Now that the deal is in the works, you’ll want to turn that preapproval into a final, official mortgage loan. You could get your mortgage from the same lender that preapproved you, but you aren’t obligated to — shop around for the best rates and terms you can find. Once you’ve settled on one company, you’ll formally apply for your financing. If accepted, which you ought to be if you’ve stuck to your budget, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Appraisal, inspection and title search

After purchase terms have been agreed upon and financing has been secured, the next phase of the process involves making sure everything else about the transaction is in order: a home inspection, appraisal and title search.

Home inspections are commissioned by the buyer to determine the condition of the property. A qualified professional will review both the interior and exterior of the home, looking for evidence of structural issues, safety hazards, code violations or worn-out systems.

Amid the highly competitive real estate market of recent years, it was not unusual for home buyers to skip this step. Inspections are not required by lenders. But as a buyer, you skip an inspection at your own risk: They can uncover defects or issues that may cause you to think twice about moving forward with the purchase. “This is when the buyer needs to exercise their due diligence and investigate anything that may be important to their decision to buy the home,” says Melisa Camp, a Phoenix-based HomeSmart Realtor.

Appraisals are another critical step at this juncture, and if you’re financing your home purchase, one will be required by your lender. An appraiser is an objective professional who uses their expertise to assess what the home is worth. The appraisal tells the lender whether the home’s selling price is in line with its fair market value — lenders will not loan out more money than the home is worth. The appraised amount can also assure the buyer that they’re paying a fair price.

“If the home is appraised at or above value, then we move on to closing,” says Camp. “If it doesn’t, then we have to negotiate again.” If there is an appraisal gap, in which the appraised price is lower than the agreed-upon sale price, that gap must be bridged somehow. “Either the buyer has to pay out of pocket [to cover the difference], or the seller can reduce the purchase price. It’s open negotiation at that point in order to keep the deal together,” she says.

Issues uncovered in the title search can also delay a closing — or even potentially sink a deal. After the seller and buyer have executed a contract, a title company or attorney will examine the title of a home to make sure the seller is the only one who has a legal ownership claim. This ensures there are no other claims to the property that might impact the sale. If there is not a clear title, the issue will have to be resolved before the sale can move forward.

Final walk-through

The final walk-through is a step every homebuyer should participate in. Think of it as a last-chance viewing, or even a victory lap.

“Nobody likes surprises,” says Lisa Harris, a Realtor with RE/MAX Center in Braselton, Georgia. “The day before closing, you’ll want to do a final walk-through to be sure the home is in the same condition it was in when you went under contract. This is especially important with vacant homes — I’ve seen cases of broken windows accidentally hit by a mower, roof leaks and fallen trees.”

A final walk through typically includes the buyer and the buyer’s agent. The seller and the seller’s agent do not attend. The goal of this step is to let the buyer inspect the property at their leisure, without feeling pressure from the seller.

Closing table

You’re almost there: Closing is the final step before you receive the keys to your new home. When closing day arrives, you will typically sit down with the transaction’s seller, lender, agents and attorneys to review a stack of paperwork. You’ll be required to read a great deal of fine print and initial and sign many documents.

A few days beforehand, you should receive a closing disclosure that breaks down all the final details of your loan and payment amounts. Be sure to bring the required identification and methods of payment (typically a certified or cashier’s check) with you to the closing table. If everything goes according to plan, the process takes a few hours or less.

Possession timelines are typically negotiated between the buyer and the seller as part of the sale contract. “If you’re transferring possession at closing, the seller will provide all of the keys and garage remotes so you can begin the moving process,” says Harris. “It’s also a good idea to exchange numbers at closing so you can reach each other.”

Once everything is signed and those keys are in your hand, congratulations — you are officially a homeowner.

Written by
Mia Taylor
Contributing Writer
Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation's leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Credit.com.
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Senior real estate editor