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When you’re searching for your dream home, it can be hard to be patient. This is especially true if you need to move quickly after putting your own home on the market, or are moving to a new area and need to find a home quickly. Your home buying requirements and the state of the market can influence how long it takes to buy a home, which can make sticking to a strict timeline tricky.
With all that in mind, exactly how long does it take to buy a house on average? The short answer: It typically takes around six months. In some cases, you may be able to find and buy a home in as little as three months. If you have some niche desires on your home wishlist and are willing to wait until the perfect home comes on the market, it can even take years to find your home sweet home.
Let’s look at why the home buying timeline fluctuates so much and what you can do to speed it up if you’re looking to get settled sooner rather than later.
How long does it take to buy a house?
We know that if all goes well and you’re ready to make a major move, it can take between three and six months to buy a new home.
But there are quite a few steps in this process, and how long each step takes varies. Understanding what each step is, and if you’ve already completed any of them, will help you get a better idea of your unique home buying timeline.
Step 1. Get a Preapproval Letter
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 home buying ability for all parties involved.
It’s better to get your hands on a preapproval letter early in the home buying process. That way, you won’t miss out on a house you love in a competitive market by having to go through the preapproval process after finding your ideal house.
You may run into trouble during the preapproval process and realize your personal credit needs a bit of a boost. It takes time to repair credit mistakes and it can take months of effort to start seeing improvement. The earlier you know where you stand, the sooner you can start working on improving your credit.
Timeline: It can take several days to get preapproved, but once you’re preapproved and find a home you want to buy, the process of applying for a loan can move quickly. If preapproved, you can generally get an official loan estimate in around three business days after applying.
Step 2. Find a Home to Buy
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. If you’re hoping to get a lot of house for your money, but are looking in a seller’s market and want to stick to a strict budget, it may take you longer to find the right fit. If you’re flexible and there are plenty of homes on the market, you may be able to find a great home right away.
Timeline: Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how long this step will take for you, but that’s part of the fun of house hunting. According to the 2020 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report by the National Association of REALTORS® Research Group, typically it takes 10 weeks to find a home.
Step 3. Make Your Offer
Once you make an offer on a home, how long it takes to hear back on the seller’s decision 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.
Timeline: Generally, this step should only take a couple days, but if a bidding war heats up it can take longer.
Step 4. Complete the Closing Process
If your offer is accepted (congratulations!), it’s time to move on to the closing process. This is when your lender will take your preapproved loan and approve it. A vital part of that process is underwriting.
Mortgage underwriting is when the lender confirms how much you can borrow and how much collateral you have, and they verify vital information about your identity, employment, and income. They will likely review your tax returns, credit scores and credit reports, and certain financial statements in order to confirm that you can close on your mortgage.
The mortgage underwriter will also make sure that the lender is following all laws regarding certain loan program qualifications. An appraisal of the home will need to occur during this time to assess the value of the home.
During the closing process, the buyer will take on two primary responsibilities: signing legal paperwork and paying any closing costs or escrow items.
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.
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.
Timeline: Typically it takes around five to eight business days to complete the underwriting process, and up to 10 days to receive a report detailing the home appraisal. Closing out the entire loan application process can take months. According to the Origination Insight Report from ICE Mortgage Technology it took 58 days on average to close on home loans during the time period of December 2020 to January 2021.
Step 5. Sign Closing Documents
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. 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.
Timeline: Signing all closing documents may be a bit tedious, but luckily it only takes an hour or so to take care of.
What factors impact how long it takes to buy a house?
How you handle your home search and financing process 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.
Time of Year
The time of year you start looking to buy a home can impact how long it takes. If you have a bit of flexibility in your home buying plans, you might want some insight into when is a good time to buy a house.
Those who are in a rush may want to avoid house hunting in the spring and summertime, which have more competition for buyers. There is often more supply in the summertime — many families want to buy and sell homes so they can move while their children are out of school. But there is also more demand, as more prospective buyers start house hunting around this time as well. The increased competition among buyers can make it take longer to find a house you want and close on it.
Those who desire a speedier home buying process should wait until the colder months. 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.
Seller vs. Buyer’s Market
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. All-cash offers still require paperwork, but there is less waiting than if you use financing.
What home buying steps take the longest?
Which step in the home buying process takes the longest can vary, but is generally either the home hunting or the closing process.
Considering it takes about two months to completely finish the closing process on a home, if you find a home to buy quickly, this step can take the longest. That being said, there are delays that can happen during varying stages of the home buying process that can be difficult to predict.
What can you do to avoid delays?
The Realtors Confidence Index Survey (February 2021) from the National Association of REALTORS® Research Group found that the following hiccups cause the most delays during the home buying process.
Some common sources of delays will likely be out of your control (such as appraisal issues), but others such as obtaining financing can be sped up by following the steps outlined above.
- Issues relating to obtaining financing: 29%
- Appraisal issues: 23%
- Home inspection or environmental issues: 12%
- Titling/deed issues: 13%
- Contingencies stated in the contract: 5%
- Issues in buy/sell distressed property: 2%
- Home/hazard/flood insurance issues: 2%
- Buyer losing a job: 2%
- Other: 13%
You can work with your realtor and lender to get all of your ducks in a row to avoid some of these roadblocks. That way, you can wrap up the process faster and can get into your new home as quickly as possible.