How Long Does It Take to Buy a House?

Cathie Ericson

How long does it take to buy a house? While estimating a timeline for home buying will depend on many variables, real estate experts estimate that the average time required is around four months.

This timeline is important for buyers to keep in mind for a variety of reasons. Many buyers might hope to time their home purchase with when their rental lease is up. Other buyers might want to pace their house hunt so that they are settled in their new home before the start of school. Still other buyers might also be home sellers who first need to close on the sale of their old house before they can buy their next house.

In short, home buyers might need to fit their home search into any number of time-sensitive situations, so knowing how long the buying process typically takes can help them plan accordingly.  Plus, buyers should know that four months is how long it might take if everything goes smoothly. If problems crop up—with the home inspection, appraisal, mortgage, or other things—then the real estate buying process could take even longer.

Buying a house may take time, but there are good reasons why it's no impulse purchase. To help illuminate what's going on, here's a rundown of the various stages you'll encounter while home shopping to help you plan your buying timeline just right.

Step 1: Get pre-approved for a mortgage

Your first step shouldn't be to check out homes; it should be to get mortgage pre-approval from a mortgage lender or broker. This is presuming you aren't planning to make an all-cash offer to a seller, but rather need a loan to make your goal of home buying happen.

“Home buyers will want to speak to a mortgage lender or  broker to start the loan process early so there are no surprises,” says real estate agent Beverley Hourlier with Hilltop Chateau Realty, in San Diego.

There are a couple of reasons for this: One, unless you're really organized, it will take you a while to gather all the documents you need to show your lender for your loan, including pay stubs and tax forms. Two, if the mortgage lender finds out that your finances are less than ideal for homeownership—because of, for instance, a poor credit score—it can take months to clean up your finances so you're in better standing. Oh, and you'll need to make sure you've got enough cash so you can afford to make a decent down payment on your mortgage, too.

If your finances are in good shape, you can get mortgage pre-approval, which is a contract that the lender will lend you a certain amount of money. Being pre-approved for a mortgage and having this paperwork in hand is a major asset, because it shows sellers that you can afford their house and mean business, and it's a prime way to negotiate with a home seller. (Keep in mind that mortgage pre-approval is different than mortgage pre-qualification).

If your financial circumstances don't change much by the time you close this real estate deal, you can ask a lender to extend that loan promise for an additional 90 to 120 days or longer; you can also lock in a great interest rate so it doesn't rise by the time you're actually buying a house.

Step 2: Find your dream home

While looking at real estate listings online is fun and easy, things slow down once you get to the point where you're visiting houses in person. After all, buyers can't just pop in whenever they want. Instead, you'll have to schedule an appointment for a home tour that work for the home sellers, too.

So in the same way buyers have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding a prince, you'll likely need to spend some time house hunting, and see a lot of homes before you find one you love. On average, buyers see 10 houses before they make an offer, but that number can be much higher.

But any good real estate agent will tell you that it's time well spent. According to  agent Melanie Atkinson with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, in Tampa, FL, when buying a house, “The last thing you want is to feel rushed or make a decision in haste that you will later regret.”

Step 3: Prepare for closing day

Once you've found a house you love, made an offer that's been accepted, and are under contract to purchase the property (which can typically happen in a few days), the waiting game really begins.

On average, it takes around 50 days to close on a loan for buying a house, from the time lenders pre-approve your mortgage to underwriting the loan to the day you sign all the documents and move into your new home.

Can you see now why getting pre-approval early is so important for the buying process? In fact, securing a loan is the most common holdup in buying a house.

Even with a pre-approval, it can still take 30 days for the lender to do its due diligence by conducting a home appraisal to make sure it's a good investment (since after all, the lender's money is on the line) and underwriting your mortgage.

Meanwhile, if you're under contract to buy a particular piece of real estate, it will also take time for you and your real estate agent to do your own due diligence to make sure the house isn't hiding some glaring flaw you'll regret inheriting. You can do this by checking the home sellers'  disclosure statements for any problems in the house that they're aware of, and also hiring a home inspector to check out the house from top to bottom for any problems. All of this takes time. Closing is a not a time to rush; you and your agent will want to make sure to do everything right.

Bottom line: As much as people complain about how long it takes to buy a house, it's all in the interests of making sure you're happy once you're a homeowner and this piece of real estate is finally yours. So when in doubt, there is no better time to start than now! If you're worried you'll find your dream house too soon, there are ways to negotiate with a seller and their agent so that it all works out.

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