The process of buying a house can be time consuming — to the tune of three months from beginning to end. On average, you’ll spend 30 to 60 days shopping for your house, 14 to 60 days from contract to close and likely 14 to 45 days before your first mortgage payment is due, according to Homes.com. If there are other factors involved — for instance, if you have to clean up your credit first — it can take even longer.
So, how long does it take to buy a house? It varies. But the process can be broken down into six steps, each of which takes a fairly predictable amount of time.
You might not need to go through each step, so if one doesn’t apply, skip to the next. Before you even start looking at homes, get a better idea of the time it will take to make this major purchase by learning about the homebuying process.
1. Fix Credit Report Errors Before a Lender Credit Check: 8 Weeks
If you have bad credit, it’s worth your while to improve it before you start shopping for a home. “Before you can consider purchasing a home or securing a mortgage, you need to make sure your credit is good,” said Nadeem Qureshi, realtor at Champions Real Estate Group.
What’s considered “good” is subjective. The FHA currently offers loans with just 3.5 percent down for people with scores of at least 580, but that score might be too low to qualify for a conventional loan.
A credit score is based on factors like credit usage and history of on-time payments. Mistakes in your report can sink your chances for a good interest rate, or even prevent you from being qualified.
Order your yearly, free credit report early in the homebuying process and search for errors to challenge. All three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — respond to disputes within 30 days. From there it takes another month for the changes to reflect, so plan to allow approximately eight weeks at a minimum to resolve these issues.
2. Get Preapproved for a Home Loan: 18 Days
“Smart shoppers will seek loan preapproval prior to beginning their search for a home,” said Jason Haynes, broker associate at Century 21 Stopper & Associates. “I have a mortgage broker who I routinely work with, and given all the necessary information and paperwork, loan preapproval can take less than 48 hours.”
Home loan preapproval can streamline the entire process and help when you’re getting approved for a mortgage. It does, however, require borrowers to submit detailed, accurate records related to their finances, credit history, income, assets and debt for review by loan officers and underwriters. That can happen in minutes or days, but the average amount of time it takes to get mortgage preapproval is about 18 days from start to finish.
3. Find a Real Estate Agent: 1 to 30 Days
“There is no real method to choosing an agent,” Haynes said. “I’ve been told I was chosen because I ‘looked like a nice guy on the website.’ Plus, picking an agent can take only a few minutes in the online world.”
But spending a few weeks researching can’t hurt — especially if you want to find your dream home. Buyers need to trust their agents and vet them to ensure they’re diligent, competent and honest.
Get references from friends and family, and hire someone local with intimate knowledge of the area in which you want to buy. Ask questions like:
- How long have you been in the business?
- Is real estate your full-time job?
- How many buyers do you work with at once, on average?
Check Out: How to Save for a House While Renting
4. Research Potential Houses and Neighborhoods: 3 Weeks
“Searching for homes has become much more streamlined,” said Haynes. “With websites such as Zillow and Trulia, buyers can often create a short list of properties before reaching out to an agent.” Sites like these can be used to filter specific search parameters and help estimate the expenses related to closing on a house.
“It’s a good idea to break up your housing criteria into needs, wants and desires,” said Candy Miles-Crocker, associate broker at Long and Foster Real Estate Inc. “Needs are those amenities that the buyer simply can’t live without. Wants are those amenities that would be nice. Desires are those amenities that would be over-the-top wonderful.”
Give yourself and your family a few weeks to do your research and discuss your options. You might need to revise your criteria after you start seeing what’s on the market in your budget.
5. Find a House and Make an Offer: Varies
“After the initial meeting, the realtor will send the buyer various listings that meet their criteria, and the buyer can decide if they would like to see any of the properties,” said Miles-Crocker. “But once the buyer finds a house that they love, the process moves extremely quickly.”
Finding and making an offer on a house can take a lot of time — or no time at all. That process is different for everyone. “I’ve had couples take one day and couples that take up to one year,” said Qureshi.
“Once the offer is written and signed by the buyer, the realtor will present the offer and the seller has three options: accept, reject or counter,” said Miles-Crocker.
How long does it take to close on a house? Many factors go into a mortgage closing, including closing costs. One of those closing costs is the inspection, which might take some time.
6. Get a House Inspection: 3 to 4 Days
“A home inspection is the single most important thing you can invest in when purchasing a home,” said Daniel Garcia, an associate with Re/Max. “The consumer and real estate agent can only see cosmetic defects while walking through a property, whereas a home inspector will conduct a thorough inspection.”
A home might seem great, but if it needs repairs or has any issues, you need to make sure it’s still worth your money, Garcia said.
An inspection typically takes from two to three hours, but getting the inspector to the house can take up to a few days. Most real estate agents can recommend an inspector with whom they frequently work, but buyers can select their own inspector.
The homebuying process is different for everyone, and the average time to get a home loan approval varies by homebuyer. Almost without exception, however, buyers will have to navigate these six steps to buying a house.
Ashley Redmond contributed the reporting for this article.