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A Simple Home Buying Timeline for First-Time Buyers

Many home buyers begin their journey before talking to a lender. Home-buying begins when you first see yourself as a future homeowner. 

If you’ve browsed houses online or stopped by an open house in person, you’ve started passive home-buying. Homeownership is something you’d like for your future, and knowing the timeline for buying a house will help guide you. 

Here’s a breakdown of the home-buying timeline so you can prepare and plan your path to homeownership. 

Home-Buying Timeline:

How Long Does It Take To Buy a House?

From the active home-buying stage, buyers can find and purchase a home in as little as 15 weeks, and up to eight months. Many people start the passive home buying stage years in advance. Passive home buying is different for everyone, so we won’t count that in our official timeline.

Once you decide it’s time to buy a house, your first step is to get a mortgage pre-approval. Buyers can be pre-approved in just one day. Then, the typical buyer tours nine homes over eight weeks before finding their ideal house.

After you submit an offer and are under contract, it takes an average of 49 days to close and get your keys. With these estimates, you can move into a new home in four months or less.

These time frames can vary, as some lenders close quicker, some buyers take longer to choose a home, and some sellers take longer to accept an offer. The home buying timeline ranges from two to six months for most buyers.

Here’s every home-buying step you can expect to take, from viewing listings to moving into your new home. 

Illustrated timeline shows 4 home-buying phases and the steps for each. 

1. Begin Planning To Buy a Home 

6+ months in advance

Home-buying timeline highlights the “passive home-buying” phase.

Home buyers often consider homeownership years before they’re ready to meet with a lender. This allows buyers to consider what they like in a home and learn about the buying process.

This is a time to determine your homeownership goals. Do you need more space for a growing family? Some buyers want a yard for their pets or outdoor hobbies. Others want to invest in a home and build wealth. 

Your goals can help you decide what kind of home you want and when you’d like to move. 

This is also a good time to evaluate your finances and build a monthly budget. A specific budget allows you to see how much you want to pay on a monthly mortgage. It also helps you set savings goals for your down payment and closing costs, unless you choose 100 percent financing. 

If you’re worried about approval with your current finances, consider down payment assistance options and accessible loan types. 

2. Choose a Mortgage Lender 

1+ days

Home-buying timeline highlights the “active home-buying” phase.

A mortgage lender can help you decide which loan type is right for you. They’ll also help you consider down payment options and strategize to improve your credit score if necessary. 

Most first-time home buyers choose a conventional 30-year mortgage. The longer loan term makes homeownership accessible with a lower monthly mortgage payment. 

Buyers who aren’t eligible for a conventional mortgage may consider government-backed loans. FHA loans are a great option for buyers looking for a loan with low-down payment and less restrictive credit score requirements. 

USDA and VA loans have no down payment or credit score requirements. 

3. Get a Mortgage Pre-Approval 

1+ days

A mortgage pre-approval shows you how much home you qualify for. It’s time to get a pre-approval when you decide to buy a home. This can be two months or a year in advance — whatever makes sense for you. 

Pre-approvals are a dress rehearsal for your mortgage and are necessary to make a serious offer on a home. They typically expire after 90 days and can be refreshed if you don’t find the home you’re looking for in that time. 

Know that pre-approvals don’t guarantee your mortgage approval or interest rate. After you’re pre-approved, avoid opening new credit lines or making large debt payments that can impact your FICO score. 

4. Hire a Real Estate Agent 

1+ weeks

Illustration of a smiling woman with a clipboard says “89% of buyers use a real estate agent to purchase their home.”

Source: NAR

Buyer’s agents help you find homes, communicate with the seller, and negotiate the home sale. An experienced real estate agent knows the neighborhoods and provides insights into the local housing market. 

Your mortgage lender can recommend agents in your area. You can also ask family and friends who they’ve worked with. 

It’s key to get a real estate agent that represents you, instead of a dual agent that represents the seller, too. This home buyer mistake can prevent both the buyer and seller from having fair representation. 

“Using the listing agent is like stepping into a courtroom and using the opposing side's legal counsel. Everyone is entitled to have their own representation, and should.”  — Michelle Corsi, Steve Wrobbel team at Howard Hanna via HGTV.

Also, home sellers cover all real estate agent fees unless otherwise stated. 

Many buyers only meet with one real estate agent, but it’s important to find someone you connect with. Take the time to build a home-buying team that’s equipped to represent you well.

 

5. Shop for Your New Home

8 weeks

House hunting can happen quickly, or end up being time consuming. Either way, it’s an exciting time to explore properties until you find your dream home. 

It’s helpful to know what you want ahead of time, refine your home search, and guide your real estate agent. If you’re not sure what your dream home looks like, touring properties can help you set those expectations. 

Keep a list of your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and deal-breakers. This can save you time touring and helps you make your final housing decision. 

6. Make An Offer 

1+ days

Once you find a house you love, your real estate agent will help you make an offer on the house. Decide details like your earnest money deposit and contingencies in advance so your offer letter template is ready to go. 

An offer letter typically includes: 

  • The name of the seller 
  • The address of the property
  • The names of anyone who will be on the title, including yourself
  • The purchase price you’re offering and down payment
  • The earnest money deposit
  • Any contingencies you’d like to include
  • Any concessions you’re requesting from the seller
  • A complete list of fees and closing costs
  • The dates you’d like to close on the home
  • Your preferred move-in dates
  • A deadline to respond to the offer

Real estate laws vary by location, so you may need additional information. Your real estate agent or attorney can confirm that your offer letter complies with local regulations.

7. Loan Processing and Underwriting

1+ days

Home-buying timeline highlights the “closing process” phase.

Loan processors comb through your mortgage application and ensure they have everything needed for full mortgage approval.

Next, the application goes to the underwriter for verification. Underwriters look for inconsistencies in your credit report, credit score, and property details. If anything comes up, the underwriter will reach out with questions. 

You’ll complete other closing processes during this phase, too. 

Home Appraisal

Home appraisals determine the value of a home with an inspection from a qualified third-party appraiser. Appraisals are required for any home purchase, sale, or refinance. 

Appraisers perform a visual inspection of the home and collect specific property and housing market data. This can include:

  • Floor plan
  • Square footage
  • Home amenities and features
  • Property’s neighborhood
  • Local housing trends
  • Similar home sales

The appraiser then considers this data to determine the home’s value. 

Once the appraisal is complete, buyers receive a report detailing the property, neighborhood, and local housing sales. 

As a home buyer, the appraisal allows you to know your home’s value and can influence the buying process. 

If the appraisal projects the house is of equal or higher value than the sale price, the home sale continues. If the appraisal finds the home’s value is less than the sale price, the buyer has the opportunity to negotiate. 

If the seller isn’t willing to negotiate, your mortgage lender is unlikely to approve the mortgage for a higher amount than the home’s worth. At this point, you can walk away from the deal or pay the difference between the appraised value and the purchase price. 

Home Inspection

A home inspection provides insight into the current condition of a home and its features. Home inspections aren’t required, but highly recommended and are often a contingency in your contract. 

Home inspectors look at the interior and exterior of the home, covering everything from plumbing to the foundation. 

They don’t look at sewage pipes, behind electrical panels, or inside interior walls. 

Once finished, the inspector provides a report highlighting:

  • Safety concerns
  • Major and minor defects
  • Items that need to be replaced
  • Items that need to be repaired 
  • Items that may need to be repaired

As the buyer, you get to choose if you’d still like to purchase the home given the report’s findings. 

If you still love the home but don’t want to pay to replace the roof, you have room to negotiate. You can ask that the seller fix the issue or lower the sale price to accommodate the repair.

Buyers have seven days after an inspection to decide to purchase or walk away from the sale. If you choose to waive the home inspection contingency in your offer, you choose to purchase the home as is. But an inspection is still recommended for your own information.

Title Search

Title companies perform a title search to determine who owns the property for sale and has the right to sell it. They’ll also look for an easement or right of way that may prevent you from completing projects, like installing a pool. 

The end goal is to ensure the seller has the right to sell the home, and protect the buyer’s future ownership. 

This seems straightforward, but divorces and inherited ownership can complicate things. If someone other than the seller has some ownership in the property, they can interfere with the sale.

You’ll also receive a title report to ensure the property can be legally transferred to you. 

8. Close On Your New Home 

3 days

Home-buying timeline highlights the “welcome to homeownership” after closing.

When the closing reports are complete, you’ll receive a closing disclosure to review and finalize your loan. This specifies the loan’s terms and costs with exact figures. 

It’s a good idea to perform a final walk-through and inspect the home to ensure everything is in good shape for move-in.  

Finally, you’ll come to closing day. You and the seller will sign the final paperwork, transfer necessary funds, and you’ll get your keys.

Congratulations! You’re a homeowner, and it’s time to celebrate. 

Homeownership is a journey that can start well before you ever consider pre-approval. Understanding the timeline for buying a house will help you prepare for the process and eventually buy the home of your dreams. 

 

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Dan Green

Dan Green

Dan Green is a former mortgage loan officer and an industry expert. He's appeared on NPR and CNBC, and in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and dozens of local newspapers. Dan has helped millions of first-time home buyers get educated on mortgages, real estate, and personal finance. Have mortgage questions? Ask Dan in the chat.

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