How long does it take to buy a house?

Aly J. Yale
The Mortgage Reports contributor

How long does it take to buy a house?

When it comes to buying a house, there aren’t any shortcuts. In fact, it’s a fairly lengthy process that takes most buyers around four months or more, according to experts. 

That’s not a hard-and-fast number, though, and the time it will take you to buy a home depends on a number of factors — things like how competitive your market is, how prepared you are for the mortgage process, and the type of loan you’re getting. 

Luckily, there are things you can do to speed the process up and improve your chances at getting your dream home. If you know what to expect, you’re already ahead of the game.

Verify your home buying eligibility (May 8th, 2021)

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Timeline for buying a home

There are five main steps you’ll take to buy a house — some fairly quick and painless, and others more time-consuming and challenging.

Let’s take a look at each one in detail:

  1. Get preapproved for your mortgage. Having a mortgage pre-approval in hand is critical before you start shopping for a home. The pre-approval letter shows you’re eligible for a home loan and can actually afford the house you want — most sellers won’t accept an offer without one. Fortunately, this is relatively easy and can be done in just minutes online, depending on your mortgage lender
  2. Find a house (and get your offer accepted). This will be the lengthiest part of the process, particularly in today’s competitive market. You can expect to spend a few weeks — often a few months — searching for (and bidding on) the perfect house
  3. Secure your mortgage loan. Applying for your loan, submitting your documentation, and awaiting your lender’s underwriting process usually takes about six to eight weeks total. As of February 2021, the average mortgage loan took about 53 days from start to finish. VA and FHA loans tend to take a few days longer than conventional loans due to the increased paperwork they come with
  4. Get the house appraised and inspected. Your lender should order the appraisal, which will happen within a few weeks of submitting your application. The appraiser will verify your home’s value is enough to secure the approved loan amount. The home inspection typically takes place within the first 10 days
  5. Close on your loan. This is the last step in the process and usually takes a few hours. On closing day you’ll sign your paperwork, hand over your down payment and closing costs, and get the keys to your new home

If everything goes smoothly and you’re able to find a house (and win the bidding war) quickly, it’s possible to buy your home within two months.

Typically, though, it will take a bit longer than this, especially if you’re in a competitive housing market.

Start your mortgage pre-approval today (May 8th, 2021)

What can cause delays in the home buying process?

There are lots of hiccups that can delay your home purchase — sometimes by quite a bit, too. In today’s landscape, bidding wars are one of the most common. 

If you’re in a market where housing supply is low and buyer demand is high, you might not win the first home you make an offer on — or even the second, third, or fourth.

In fact, according to Redfin, about two-thirds of buyers faced bidding wars in March 2021, making it difficult not just to find a house but to get one affordably, too. In many cases, these bidding wars can add weeks or even months to your home buying timeline.

Three things that can delay the home buying process significantly are bidding wars, late paperwork, and negotiations with the seller.

Not being prepared for your mortgage application can set you back on time as well.

Mortgage companies require lots of financial documentation and will also need updated paperwork as you get closer to your closing date. If you’re slow to respond to these requests or have trouble finding the right documentation, it could delay your home purchase considerably.

Finally, issues with your home inspection or appraisal can also cause holdups.

These assessments often require you to renegotiate with the seller, either on repairs or price point, and that’s not always an easy feat. This can sometimes add days or weeks to your timeline (particularly if the seller has to make repairs to the property). 

How to speed up the home buying process

If you want your home purchase to go smoothly and without delay, there are a few strategies that can help.

First, be choosy about your real estate agent or Relator. Make sure you pick one who’s experienced, has the time for you (meaning they don’t have 15 other clients at the same time), and who knows the market well.

A great agent will give you a competitive advantage not only in finding a home but in winning one when you do.

Especially if you’re a first-time home buyer, your agent will be a huge help in making competitive (but reasonable) offers and counter-offers.

You should also gather all your financial documentation early, as this can help your mortgage process go faster.

The exact paperwork you’ll need depends on your loan product and mortgage lender, but you can generally expect to need the following:

  • Your last two pay stubs from work
  • The most recent two years of tax returns and W-2 forms
  • Two months of bank statements (checking and savings)
  • Statements for retirement accounts or other assets you might have (401k, IRA, stocks, bonds, etc.)
  • Written explanation for any large deposits or purchases on your bank statements
  • Statements for any other sources of income, like Social Security, alimony, child support, etc.

It’s important to be prepared in other ways, too. Know your budget, and discuss with your family (and agent) what you might do if you’re caught in a bidding war, your home appraisal comes in low, or the home inspection reveals repairs are needed.

Related: How much over asking price should I offer on a house?

Having a plan ready for these challenges can help you respond quickly and keep your purchase back on track.

Verify your home buying eligibility (May 8th, 2021)

The bottom line

There’s no set-in-stone number for the average time it takes to buy a house. For some buyers, it could be just under two months. For others, it might be considerably longer. 

To recap, here’s what to expect timing-wise at each stage of the home buying process:

  1. Mortgage pre-approval — Under a day
  2. House hunting and making an offer — A few weeks or months
  3. Complete the mortgage process — 30-60 days
  4. Home inspection and appraisal — A few weeks
  5. Closing process — A few hours

If you’re hoping for a quick and painless home purchase, your best bet is to line up the right help, come prepared, and be ready to put in the work.

In today’s hot market, you’ll need to act quickly if you want to win out.

You can start by getting a loan approval so you’re ready to make a serious offer when you find the right home.

Verify your new rate (May 8th, 2021)