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How long does it take to buy a house?

December 16, 2019 — Written by Lauren Bowling

Dad pushing daughter on a swing in front of new house

If you’re wondering how long it takes to buy a house, the answer depends on your personal situation, goals and the area in which you’re looking to buy. According to real estate agent and Opendoor consumer trends expert Beatrice de Jong, the home buying timeline can vary significantly.

“I’ve seen people go through the whole process in as fast as a couple weeks or up to 2 years. Most of my clients spend 1-2 months looking before securing a home.”

The reason that the home buying timeline can vary so much is because each step in the process is impacted by multiple factors, such as how long it can take you to find your dream home and how you finance your home purchase. While there isn’t one definitive timeline, we’ve provided estimated ranges so you know what to expect and can play accordingly.

Buying a home typically involves the following steps:

Identifying what you want in a home (a few days)

Identifying what you want in a home is more than just considering bedrooms and bathrooms.

Below is a list of Opendoor-recommended criteria to consider at the beginning of the home buying process:

  • Property type: Will your next home be a single-family home, condo/apartment, or townhome?
  • Size: Do you want something comparable to your current home or more square footage for a growing family?
  • Condition: Are you looking for a brand new build? A fixer upper? Or something in between?
  • Schools: Is the education system in your desired area strong? Is this a need or priority?
  • Commute: How will living in this home impact your commute to work, to your children’s schools, and to any child care assistance?
  • Neighborhood: Is this location where you want to spend our free time?

If you haven’t already, take a few days to consider each criteria, and put these needs and wants in writing.

New home build from KB Homes

Understanding what you can afford (a few days)

In today’s digital world, getting prequalified for a mortgage can happen fast. But you should be aware that what you may be able to afford on paper may not always be the amount you can actually afford to spend. This is why Opendoor recommends doing some simple calculations on your own before applying for loan pre-approval.

The simplest way to accurately calculate how much home you can afford, is to use the 28/36 rule.

The 28/36 rule

The 28/36 rule is the “rule of thumb” lenders use when trying to assess how much money to loan a borrower for a mortgage, says Investopedia.

  • The “28” in the 28/36 rule means borrowers should aim to spend no more than 28% of their gross monthly income on housing costs.
  • The “36” means borrowers shouldn’t spend more than 36% on debt payments (encompassing a mortgage, car loan, student loans, credit cards, alimony, etc.).

To find a rough calculation of how much of a monthly mortgage payment you can afford, multiply your total take-home income (after taxes) by .28. For example, if you take home $5,000 each month, you can afford a total mortgage payment (principal, taxes, and interest) of $1,400.

Debt-to-income ratio

To find out if your debts meet the “36% rule”, take your total monthly take-home income and multiply it by .36. Using the example of $5,000 of income each month, your debts shouldn’t exceed $1,800.

So, if you’d like to keep a mortgage payment of $1,400, all other debts shouldn’t exceed $400.

Paying attention to your debt load is important, as this is how some homeowners qualify for a smaller mortgage than they expect their income to allow. Banks do look at these numbers carefully. The Consumer Financial Protect Bureau reports many banks will not extend mortgages to borrowers who have 43% or higher debt-to-income ratio.

If you need to pay off debt in order to financially qualify for a mortgage, be aware that this could add weeks or months to your home buying timeline.

Affordability factors can impact your home buying timeline

The timeline estimated for understanding affordability assumes you’ve got good credit and already have money saved for your down payment. This timeline can extend beyond a few days if the following factors apply:

Lower-than-average-credit

If your credit score is lower-than-average, it may be worth the effort to spend some time improving your credit, as a better credit score can qualify you for more competitive interest rates. We’ll run through an example:

Credit score 684 700
Loan amount $200,000 $200,000
30-year fixed interest rate 3.7% 3.5%
Total cost $331,405 $323,312

At the higher credit score, total savings are over $8,000.

Having higher credit has benefits when purchasing a home. A small difference in interest rates can lower how much you’ll pay in interest by thousands of dollars.

Assumptions:

Sufficient home down payment savings

Saving up to 10-20% down payment for a home purchase could take months or years, depending on your financial situation. If you wanted to purchase a $200,000 home, you’d need $40,000 for a down payment in order to avoid private mortgage insurance. You’ll need to consider the following costs that come with a home purchase:

  • Closing costs on the mortgage loan: Includes fees for loan origination fees, inspection, appraisal, survey and title search
  • Home maintenance costs: A popular rule is to budget 1% of the purchase price for home maintenance each year, says The Balance

Even if you don’t end up putting the full 20% down on a home, it may be necessary to save 20% of your home budget in order to cover the many costs associated with homeownership.

Finding financing and obtaining pre-approval (1-2 weeks)

There are generally two ways to pay for a home purchase: take out a mortgage from a bank or you can pay in cash. How you choose to finance your home impacts the overall home buying timeline.

Couple looking at finances to see how much house they can afford

Even though technology has made pre-qualifying for a mortgage easier and faster than in the past, de Jong says “it’s a great idea for buyers to shop around for lenders to find a competitive rate and good customer service.” As in our credit score example above, a small difference in interest rates can impact how much you pay for your home over the life of the loan.

Research from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finds only 23% of consumers rate shop when trying to obtain a mortgage loan. Those who do rate shop experience savings of $3,500 within the first five years, which makes rate shopping worth the time and effort.

Once you’ve identified which lenders you want to get rates from, the process to submit an application and get pre-approved can vary so it’s best to give yourself a couple of weeks for this step in the process.

House hunting and finding the right home (30-60 days)

House hunting can often be the most time-consuming part of the home buying process. Data from The Homebuying Institute states the average homeowner spends three to six weeks house hunting, while data from Realtor.com finds the average shopper sees ten homes over a ten week period.

Even if you have a very clear idea of “the perfect home” in your head, there are also a handful of other factors (besides bank financing) that impact how long it takes to find a home to buy.

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Seasonality

Seasonality can play a large part in the amount of homes available in certain neighborhoods. Research from The National Association of Realtors finds on average the busiest months for home sales tend to be in the summer: May, June, July, and August, with the winter months being the slowest time for home sales.

Family house hunting and going to open houses

Competitiveness of the market

Many markets, particularly large urban areas, have a large inventory of homes available for sale throughout the year. In other areas, potential buyers may have to refresh the MLS each week to find new homes for sale, and be prepared to put in an offer that same day in order to beat the competition.

Competitiveness varies widely by city and state. Be sure to look at this Opendoor report that provides local real estate market data for your area. In case your particular area isn’t listed, the report also breaks down how to spot market trends and competitiveness in your own zip code.

Personal situation

Your work situation, your relationships, and your family life can all impact how much time you can dedicate to a home search.

  • Can you make yourself available for lunchtime showings?
  • Are you free on nights and weekends?
  • Is it easy for you to make decisions?
  • Do you immediately know what you want?
  • Do you have to coordinate with a partner or an on-demand real estate agent to schedule showings?

Other individuals may find they need to move quickly because of work, school, or family situations. When considering how long it takes to buy a home, it is important to consider your own personal situation and how this will affect the total timeline it takes to get into the home.

Making an offer and negotiating (1-2 weeks)

In an ideal scenario, a potential buyer puts in a strong first offer, and it gets accepted right away.

Often, however, both parties will need to negotiate, which can add days and even weeks to the timeline. Each time the buyer or seller makes an offer or a counter offer, the other party typically has 72 hours (three full days) to consider it. For legal purposes, the offer will state, in writing, when the offer is set to expire, but 72 hours is standard in most states.

Underwriting and closing (30-60 days)

Once an offer is accepted, the transaction goes into a “due diligence” period. This period allows the potential buyer to do a home inspection, obtain a home appraisal, do research on the title, and make sure they feel good about the purchase before proceeding to close.

De Jong says that “staying diligent during the loan process is essential to avoid delays. Working with your lender during the pre-approval process can allow you to offer a faster closing time which makes the offer more appealing to sellers against competing offers and will allow you to move faster.”

Man doing a home inspection

For those using bank financing to purchase the home, after due diligence the loan goes from pre-approval into underwriting, meaning the bank then does a deep-dive into your finances to ensure you can afford the loan they’ll be giving you. Research from Ellie Mae finds that the average mortgage loan took 44 days to close.

Bear in mind, 44 days is an average, and assumes everything goes smoothly with the bank and any contingencies on the offer. If extensive repairs on the home are needed prior to close, or if any title issues need to be resolved, or there are appraisal disparities, these hiccups can add to the timeline of how long it takes to buy a home.

If purchasing a home with a cash offer, the timeline is generally faster. There will be no mortgage application, documentation, underwriting and the buyer usually doesn’t need an appraisal. According to Redfin, you may be able to close on an all-cash offer in as little as two weeks.

Key takeaways

Understanding how long it takes to buy a house is nuanced and involves a variety of factors including your own personal timeline, home buying goals, housing competition in your area, and how much clarity you have around what you’re looking for in your next home.

Doing your homework in advance – compiling a home buying wish list, doing a rough calculation of affordability, getting your personal documents in order, and being aggressive in your home search – can help smooth out any gaps in the timeline and keep the timeline short, outside of any extenuating circumstances like competition in the area and seasonality.

Buying a home is an important, expensive decision so it may not be something to rush. Rather, buyers should take the time needed to find a property that satisfies both everything they need and want for their individual circumstances.

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