Understanding the Timeline for Buying a Home

By Mandy Menaker – Updated August 25, 2023

Whether you’re a first-time home buyer or a seasoned pro, understanding the timeline for purchasing a house can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth and surprise-free experience. Your search for the perfect home may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on current market conditions and your budget and criteria. Once you get an offer accepted, it should take an average of 30-60 days to get the keys.

In this article, we detail the anticipated steps throughout the home buying journey, ensuring that you’re well-prepared for each stage. Here are the topics we’ll cover:

Planning for the Journey

Determining your budget (1 week)

The first step in your homeowner journey is to understand your unique financial situation, and how much home you can comfortably afford. To get a rough estimate of your potential monthly expenses, including mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and HOA fees, online calculators can be a useful tool. Keep in mind that homeowners are responsible for their own utilities and repairs, so your budget should also factor in bills and set aside a bit of money each month for routine maintenance and unexpected hiccups, such as plumbing issues and broken appliances.

You will also need to consider how large of a down payment you can offer at the time of purchase. While 10-20% tends to be the down payment standard, the National Association of Homebuyers (NAR) reports that the average down payment for first-time buyers is now closer to six percent. However, buyers should note that lower down payments may come with higher monthly payments and increased insurance premiums. The percentage of your required down payment will ultimately be decided by your lender if you’re buying a home with a traditional mortgage, an FHA or VA loan, or another financing option. 

Checking your credit score (1 day)

You will also want to get a free credit report to know your standing. For lenders, your credit score serves as a pivotal indicator of your ability to repay borrowed funds. Generally, borrowers with high credit scores are offered the most favorable interest rates, while those with lower scores might face challenges in approval. If you have a good credit score, some lenders may allow you to make a down payment as low as three percent. Yet, even with a less-than-ideal credit score, there are options to explore.

Starting to save (6+ months)

Lastly, if you haven’t already been in savings mode, you’ll need to kick-start your savings strategy for the purchase. In addition to a down payment and various closing costs, there will be a lot of upfront costs related to moving and furniture. You can meaningfully bolster your readiness for buying a home by putting a portion of each paycheck into a high-yield savings account.

Partnering with Professionals

Real estate can feel incredibly complex and overwhelming, especially for first-time buyers. The good news is that there are plenty of seasoned professionals available to help. As you navigate the process, your two most important allies will be your real estate agent and your lender.

Finding a reliable real estate agent (1-2 weeks)

Your real estate agent is the person who will help you to find and tour properties, put in an offer on a home, and negotiate the details. A good agent should be able to advise you on neighborhoods, market trends, and available listings, and help you decide what a fair offer is for a property. They will also advocate for your interests, which may include negotiating the purchase price, contingencies, and repairs. Another advantage of working with a trusted agent is the network of connections they will bring to the negotiation. Your agent will be able to recommend home inspectors, appraisers, and attorneys, simplifying the process and ensuring that each step is handled by qualified individuals. And, as a buyer, there’s no cost to work with a real estate agent.

Connecting with a mortgage lender (1-2 weeks)

Navigating the complex landscape of mortgage terms, interest rates, and fees can be overwhelming for many homebuyers. A proficient mortgage broker or lender will act as a knowledgeable guide, explaining the intricacies of different mortgage options, and helping you understand the long-term financial implications of each choice. Your lender will also help you to get pre-approved so that you are ready to make an offer on a home.

House Hunting (8+ weeks)

For many people, the time spent browsing listings and heading to open houses is the best part of the process. However, this process can also be stressful for some buyers, especially in a competitive neighborhood where multiple offers get submitted and a home that you fall in love with may be out of your reach or sell to someone else. 

Start by creating a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Get realistic about the minimum number of bedrooms and bathrooms you require both now and in the future, and what is most meaningful to you, such as a large kitchen or an attached garage.

Once you are clear on your minimum requirements and budget, use online listings to explore what is available in your desired areas. Keep in mind that you may need to be flexible on some items. For example, if you desire a specific school district, you may need to get a house with less square footage to be able to afford to live in the zoned area. If you require a large, fenced-in backyard, you may need to expand your search beyond urban areas. Your agent will work with you to set up showings for the homes you love, and in some neighborhoods, you can also stop by open houses.

Making an Offer (1 week)

Once you are lucky enough to find the house that matches your needs and preferences, it is time to put an offer in. Your real estate agent will help you to understand local market dynamics and determine a competitive offer. They will also draft a formal offer letter that includes the offer price and your list of contingencies (inspection, financing, timeline to close, etc).

Your agent will submit the finalized letter to the seller’s agent. The seller will review your offer and decide whether to accept, reject, or negotiate further with a counteroffer. Negotiations can involve adjustments to the offer price, contingencies, closing date, or other terms. Hopefully, you and the seller are able to reach an agreement!

The Inspection Process (10 days)

Following the acceptance of your offer, you’ll typically have 10 days to conduct a home inspection and perform due diligence on the quality of the home. Your buying agent will likely be able to refer to a home inspector they trust and one that can objectively evaluate the home for potential problems. A good inspector will also help to acquaint you with the home, including walking you through where key equipment is located, what its expected lifespan is, and what you should do to maintain it over time, such as changing out air filters.

Common issues that may come up during the inspection include the following:

  • Structural or foundation issues
  • Roofing problems
  • Plumbing issues
  • Electrical problems
  • HVAC challenges
  • Moisture and water damage
  • Pest infestations
  • Safety hazards/code violations
  • Faulty appliances

It’s important to note that a home inspection is not a pass/fail evaluation but rather a comprehensive assessment of the property’s condition. Some of the issues an inspector will find won’t need to be remedied immediately but on a near-term time horizon. Many issues identified during inspections are common and can be addressed through repairs or negotiations with the seller. Your agent may be able to negotiate some money back on the sale or get the seller to address some of the issues prior to closing.

Securing Financing (1-2 months)

In addition to working with your agent to finalize the details of the sale, you will also need to liaise with your mortgage lender to finalize the financing for your purchase. Your lender will ask you to provide documentation on the property details. Depending on what you already provided during the pre-approval process, they may also ask for income verification, credit history, and other financial records.

Your lender will arrange for an appraisal to ensure the property’s value aligns with the loan amount. As the process progresses, you’ll receive a loan estimate, outlining the estimated terms and costs associated with the mortgage. This is followed by a Closing Disclosure, a document that presents the final details of the loan terms, closing costs, and other relevant information. 

If the appraisal meets expectations and your financing is secured, you move closer to closing.

Closing the Deal (1 day)

You are at the home stretch. To begin, the closing date is scheduled, bringing you one step closer to the keys to your new home. As you approach this date, you’ll do a final walkthrough of the property to ensure that everything is as expected before signing on the dotted line. 

On closing day, you will work with your agent and designated attorney to sign a series of legal documents that make you an official homeowner. You will also need to pay various closing fees associated with the home purchase, such as the agreed-upon down payment sans your earnest deposit, appraisal fees, title insurance, attorney fees, property taxes, and more. Your lender will have outlined the exact amount and breakdown of costs in your Closing Disclosure, and in some cases will help expedite the closing process by holding your money in escrow so it is ready to access. 

Remember that the process may vary depending on local laws and customs. Having a skilled real estate agent to guide you through each step can greatly simplify the process and will ensure you walk out of the closing meeting with keys in hand. 

Moving In (1 week)

First, take a breath. You have just made it through an incredibly complicated process and walked away as a homeowner. That is something worth celebrating!

In most cases, you should be good to start moving into your new home. Much like any moving process, you will want to spend time packing and organizing your belongings, donating items that don’t need to make the move, and finding a few fun details for your new home.

Post-Move Considerations

Once you have completed your move, there are a few post-move considerations that deserve your attention. First, it’s a great time to address any lingering repairs or improvements that were not taken care of by the seller. Tackling these tasks ensures that your new space is optimized for comfort and functionality.

Equally important is getting to know your new neighborhood. Exploring local shops, restaurants, parks, and community events can help you integrate seamlessly into your surroundings. 

On a practical note, registering for essential local services and amenities like utilities, water, mail forwarding, and garbage collection is vital to establish a smooth transition and should be completed within 48 hours of closing on the home.

Final Thoughts on the Home Buying Timeline

From searching and eventually finding the perfect home to securing reliable financing, buying a home can be a long journey. Your journey may stall along the way or take a new direction entirely, especially if you don’t get an offer accepted the first time. However, with patience and persistence, and the help of a skilled agent, you will eventually find the property that fits your needs.

Divvy’s Home Buying Timeline

If you’re looking to work toward homeownership without committing to a mortgage right away, Divvy could be a great option for you. With Divvy, you can see if you qualify in just 5 minutes, then start the home-shopping process once you’re fully approved. While you rent, you have the option to save toward homeownership with the option to purchase the home at any point during your lease. The best part? The average Divvy customer goes from offer to close in ~19 days. Learn how Divvy works and get started today!

Mandy Menaker

Mandy Menaker has a decade of experience identifying trends and telling stories across a variety of publications including New York Times, New York Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Business Insider, BBC, CNN, and TechCrunch. She has written for publications including Forbes, PR Daily, Ladders, and Career Contessa.