On average, it takes 4 ½ months to shop for a home, plus an additional 30-45 days to close on a home once you are under contract. But of course, the timeline can vary widely based on factors like the time of year, your financing needs, the type of home you’re looking for, and the inventory in your local market.
Buying a home is many people’s largest financial purchase, so most buyers take the time to make an informed decision. And, buying a home can also be a lengthy process because it’s dependent on the state of your local housing market.
Here are some of the most time-intensive steps that can make buying a home take a long time. If you can move quickly through these steps of the process, you can purchase a home a bit faster than average.
You want to find a home you love, and if there’s low inventory of houses that meet your criteria, it can take a long time to find the right home.
According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019, 24% of buyers said that finding a home in their desired location was difficult or very difficult.
In a competitive market, where many buyers are competing for relatively few homes, you may have to put in offers on a handful of homes before you get an offer accepted. This can also happen if you’re buying using financing and are competing against many cash buyers.
The report also found that 15% of buyers said having an offer accepted on a home they were interested in purchasing was difficult or very difficult.
It can take time for a buyer and a seller to come to an agreement in which both parties are satisfied. Multiple rounds of counter-offers and negotiations related to repairs and appraisals can be time-consuming.
Having a cash offer can expedite the home buying process, but if you’re financing, it takes time to get pre-approved and have the loan underwriting and appraisal completed.
Twenty percent of buyers said it was difficult to locate all of their personal documentation for the purposes of getting a loan and 17% found difficulty in going through the underwriting process with their lender, according to the report.
There’s no rule about how quickly you can buy a home, but buying with cash can speed up the process. If you’re financing the home and want to do everything you can to speed up the process, there are a few steps you can take. Complete all your paperwork quickly, schedule your inspection as soon as possible and make sure your agent remains in constant communication with the listing agent. Ultimately, though, the loan approval timeline is mostly out of your control, because of the complexities of the underwriting and title transfer processes.
You should also consider that even if you find the right home quickly, it can take time to work out all the details with the seller — if you’re able to make it work at all. According to the Zillow Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019, just over half (55%) of all buyers who make an offer successfully close on their first home offer, while 42% make more than one offer.
Knowing all the steps to buying a home can help you prepare to move the process forward.
If you haven’t already, start saving for your down payment (usually 20% of the purchase price) far in advance of buying. And, buying a home can come with additional expenses, so at least 6 months before you start shopping for a home, be sure to save 2-5% of the purchase price to cover closing costs.
Review your credit profile ahead of time, and see what you can do to raise your score (which can get you a better interest rate). Request copies of all your credit reports, start paying off credit card bills and resolve any discrepancies or errors.
Finally, use Zillow’s Affordability Calculator to identify what you can realistically afford. The calculator takes into consideration annual income, monthly debt and your down payment.
6 months before buying
Start searching for-sale homes online on Zillow and Trulia. Visit open houses to get a feel for your market and narrow down your must-have list in terms of home type, features and location.
You’ll also want to become familiar with the experts in your local area who can assist you in the purchase process, specifically a real estate agent (if you’re planning on using one). A great real estate agent can guide you through every step and connect you with other pros like an inspector, attorney and mortgage broker or lender.
At this point, you’ll also want to be aware of your spending and its impact your credit report. Don’t take out any large loans, because they could lower your credit score and affect your debt-to-income ratio — a calculation that lenders use to determine how much you qualify to borrow. Any major changes related to your income or employment might also change your ability to get financing.
4-5 months before buying
Simplify your home-buying process by purchasing a Zillow-owned home. Start online with a virtual 3D Home tour, or self-tour on your schedule for a closer look at any Zillow-owned home.
Choose a lender or engage a mortgage broker to guide you through the financing process and help you find the right lender. Get pre-approved by your chosen lender so when it comes time to make an offer, sellers will know you’re serious. To get pre-approved, you’ll need bank statements, paystubs and tax returns. Most pre-approval letters are good for 60 to 90 days.
If you haven’t already, set up saved searches online so you’ll be notified when new homes that meet your criteria come on the market. Your agent should also be searching on the local MLS for homes to show you. Once you find homes you’re interested in, have your agent set up showings.
2-3 months before buying
Once you find a home you love, make your offer! Keep in mind, it might not be accepted right away. Zillow research shows that just under half of buyers have their first offer accepted. And according to the report, 25% of buyers make two offers, and 20% make three or more.
When they reply, they’ll either accept your offer right away, or you’ll negotiate back and forth on price and terms. Once everyone agrees, the contract will be signed by both parties and the purchase process will officially begin.
1-2 months before buying
During the 30- to 45-day escrow period, your lender will set various checkpoints in order for their underwriters to approve your loan. This will likely include items like a home inspection, appraisal and requests for additional documentation. This process may take longer if you’re getting an FHA or VA loan, which can require extra paperwork. If you’ve had a change to your credit or income since you were pre-approved, further verification may be required.
You’ll want to schedule your inspection as soon as possible after going under contract — within the first week, ideally. The purchase and sale agreement will stipulate when you must complete your inspection, often within 10 days of going under contract. Any inspection-related requests, like asking for repairs or a credit, also have a deadline.
Inspection-related negotiations can be stressful. If you already plan to waive inspection, consider buying a Zillow-owned home. These homes have already been evaluated and updated so you can buy with confidence—and streamline the process.
Now is also the time to contact a local moving company to get your move scheduled. You should file your change of address request with the post office and do some research on how you’ll set up utilities at your new home.
If you’re currently renting, you should give your landlord notice according to the terms of your lease — usually at least 30 days’ notice.
If you’re selling a home and are worried about timing the purchase and sale as conveniently as possible, consider selling your home through Zillow Offers. You can get an all-cash offer and close when it works for your timeline.
Maintain communication with your lender as the details of your loan are finalized. Be prompt about submitting any documentation that is requested. You’ll also need to let your lender know your preferred home insurance provider. As you work to finalize your loan, your real estate agent and attorney should be kept in the loop.
Under a month
Either the morning of, or the night before closing, you’ll do a final walkthrough to visually inspect the condition of the home. This is especially important if you requested repairs after your home inspection. Next, you’ll head to the title company’s office to sign your closing paperwork. Depending on the complexity of the deal, this could take a few hours.