How long does it take to buy a house? And what are the most common delays?
It typically takes three to six months to buy a house, but it can take longer if unexpected delays in the home search or closing process come up. House-hunters in a hurry should aim to buy in the winter to minimize competition from other buyers; and, if possible, they should use a cash offer to avoid the lengthy financing process.
The time it takes you to buy a house will depend on a variety of individual and market factors. On average, it takes around six months to buy a house, but in some cases, you may be able to buy a home in as little as three months. The process will be longest for homebuyers with narrow parameters, since their timeline is dependent on market availability.
But even the most open minded homebuyer can run into unexpected delays. We’ve outlined the homebuying process timeline and common delays to help prepare you for buying a home.
Understanding the homebuying process timeline is crucial to taking control of your home purchase. It can help you strategize where you can save time, and afford to lose some during your journey.
Preapproval is a savvy first step in the homebuying process. It helps you avoid missing out on a house you love in a competitive market by having to go through the preapproval process after falling in love.
It can take several days to get preapproved for a mortgage, but once you are, the process of applying for a loan can move quickly. You can generally get a loan estimate in about three business days after applying.
A preapproval letter (also known as a prequalification letter) is a document from a lender that states how much they are tentatively willing to lend you, up to a certain loan amount. This clarifies which houses on the market are within your budget and can reassure a seller that you’ll receive the financing you need to buy your home.
While the loan amount stated in your preapproval letter is not a guarantee, it does help paint a picture of your homebuying ability for all parties involved.
You may run into trouble during the preapproval process and realize your personal credit needs a boost. It takes time to repair credit mistakes, and having to boost your credit can add months to your home buying timeline. Don’t let this step drag out how long it takes to buy a home and get on top of your credit before applying for preapproval.
Before you put an offer on a home, you have to find a home that you want to buy. How long this process takes often depends on your wishlist and your budget.
It takes eight weeks to find a home in today's market, according to a 2022 report by the National Association of Realtors.1 But it can be longer in extremely competitive markets. Homebuyers who are open to different types of homes in a wide radius have the best chance at a shorter timeline.
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Homebuyers with narrow parameters for the house or area they’re looking for may be disappointed to learn that could drag out house hunting to longer than eight weeks. These buyers will be dependent on potentially limited availability, making it difficult to predict how long it could take.
If you’re flexible, trust your agent to show you houses that are outside of what you initially were looking for. You never know, you may fall in love!
If you’re not flexible, plan on a longer house-hunting stage in your homebuying journey and enlist the help of an expert agent as soon as possible. They will be able to help surface your dream home as soon as it hits the market and help you put in an offer right away.
In general, this step should only take one to three days, but if a bidding war heats up it can take longer.
Once you make an offer on a home, how long it takes to hear back depends on the seller. They may have many offers to consider, which can delay the decision process. On the flip side, they may need to sell their house quickly and want to accept your offer right away, especially if it’s a strong offer. Your real estate agent can work with you to put an offer in, and may be able to give you a better idea of how long this step will take after talking to the sellers.
Bidding wars and multiple offers are common in competitive markets. If your dream home is in such a market, plan on this step taking longer. Your agent can also help you strategize how to make your offer stand out from the rest — if you’re able, you may consider putting in a cash offer. These offers are generally preferred to sellers, and they can speed up the next step, too.
If your , you’ll move on to the closing process, which takes an average of 48 days. During this time, your lender will officially approve your loan through a process called underwriting, and you (the buyer) will take on two primary responsibilities: signing legal paperwork and paying any closing costs or escrow items.
A mortgage underwriter will verify your income, downpayment, and credit score. They will also ensure that the lender is following all laws regarding certain loan program qualifications. Lastly, your lender will order an appraisal of the home to ensure that it’s worth the loan amount or greater.
In terms of paperwork, the buyer will need to sign the required legal documents that outline the agreements between the buyer and the lender surrounding the terms and conditions of the mortgage, as well as the agreement between the buyer and the seller that transfers the ownership of the home. Buyers may also opt for a home inspection to confirm the home is in good condition before taking ownership of it.
The buyer will also be required to pay closing costs and escrow items at this time that cover any fees that come along with the mortgage or transferring the ownership of the property.
The closing process is made up of several smaller steps, which make it ripe for potential delays.
The most common cause of closing delays were appraisal issues, according to a January 2023 report from the National Association of Realtors.2 None of these issues have to be deal breakers, but buyers should talk to their real estate agent about how to prevent potential delays in the closing process if they need to close fast.
After all that hard work it’s finally time to get the keys to your new home. The final step in this process is signing the closing documents. It may be a bit tedious, but luckily it only takes an hour or so to take care of.
Once you're done signing any loan documents — such as title documents and the deed — that you need to close out the process, you’ll officially own the home.
Your home search and financing process will play a big role in how long it takes to buy a home, but so can outside factors that aren’t always within your control.
The time of year you start looking to buy a home can impact how long the homebuying process takes. Seasonality plays a crucial role in how long it takes to buy a house, so homebuyers in a rush will need to consider when they start their search.
Avoid the summer if you’re in a rush. Homebuying typically picks up in the summertime — many families want to buy and sell homes so they can move while their children are out of school. That uptick means more competition for buyers, which can make it harder to find a house and get your offer accepted.
Shopping for a home in the colder months could expedite your home purchase. The fall offers less competition which can be helpful if you don’t want to get into a bidding war. In the winter, you’ll generally have the least amount of competition, which can make it easier to negotiate on price and can speed up the home buying process.
Seasonality can go out the window if it’s a seller’s market. With a seller’s market, there are more potential buyers than there are homes for sale, which can make the housing market very competitive for buying. When homes sell quickly, it can take quite a bit longer to get your hands on the right one at a price you’re comfortable with.
Do some research on your desired location, if you find that the typical sale price in that area is more than you can comfortably afford, you may need to take your time to find a home in that area in your budget. The more desirable the area, the pricier the homes will generally be.
If you can make an all-cash offer, you may be able to cut the time it takes to buy a home by skipping the financing process altogether. Without a lender, you may be able to skip the inspection, appraisal, and underwriting process. All-cash offers still require paperwork, but there’s less waiting.
The duration of the homebuying process will vary, but the steps that typically take the longest are house hunting and closing. Unexpected delays can happen at any point in the process, so it’s best to leave yourself some time in case something comes up.
Homebuyers who need to buy a house in a hurry should focus on expediting their house-hunting process, which is one step that homebuyers have the most control over. Keep an open mind for homes that don’t necessarily check all of your boxes and lean on your agent to help surface opportunities.
The housing market has been in an extreme seller’s market since spring 2020, but it’s expected to even out in 2023. There have already been promising signs of such, as housing inventory and median days on market near normal levels. This means that buying a house in 2023 may not take as long as it did in 2021 or 2022, but the exact timeline will vary depending on your needs and market.
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