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How long it really takes to buy a house

buying a house timeline
Wondering about the timeline for buying a house? Here's what to expect.

Timing is crucial when buying a house. Getting it wrong could mean paying on a mortgage when you still owe rent—or living out of a hotel if your closing runs longer than your lease. Here’s a timeline for what to expect from your home-buying journey so that you can get it right.

How long does it take to buy a house?

The buying a house timeline can be tricky to predict. It typically takes anywhere from four weeks at the low end to six months (or more) to shop for and close on a house. But it can be quicker if you make a strong offer right away in a fast-moving market or slower if you have a hard time finding just the right place or keep getting outbid.​ The shopping step is one of the biggest house-buying timeline variables. According to Zillow research, about half of buyers searched for less than three months, but 13% shopped for seven months to a year.

Here’s your step-by-step buying a house timeline:

1. Find a real estate agent

1–2 weeks

Of course, you could sign with the first agent you find online, which could take as little as a day, but it’s smart to take some time when finding a real estate agent. Do some research, come up with questions for potential real estate agents, and check out their specialties and customer reviews. Agents are a great asset that cost you nothing, so find one you feel comfortable with. Trulia can help you connect with trustworthy Premier Agents who know your area and will work hard for you. You can request to be connected with a Premier Agent on any property listing.

2. Get pre-approved for a mortgage

1–2 weeks

It only takes one to five business days to get mortgage pre-approval, but spend the time to research different lenders and mortgage types so you get the best possible deal. To make the research easier, Zillow can help you find a lender near you. You can find a mortgage lender at the same time that you’re looking for a real estate agent, but know that agents can sometimes offer good advice on which mortgage companies their clients have recommended.

3. Make a list of needs and start browsing

3–5 days

Take the time to think about the things you absolutely need in your new home (for instance, a certain number of bedrooms or a short commute) as well as the things you want but could do without (say, a hot tub). Make a list of both and discuss it with your real estate agent. These priorities will help you as you start browsing online for homes that fit the bill. Be prepared to adjust your list as you take stock of what’s out there and how much house you can afford.

Again, if you’re in a rush, this something that can and sometimes does happen at the same time as Steps 1 and 2, but there’s a benefit to hearing your agent’s advice and taking the time to think things through.

4. Go to house viewings

1 week–4 months

Now it’s time to have your agent start setting up viewings of homes you’re interested in. The timing of this part of the process is especially variable. In some markets, you could visit several homes and make an offer that same day that gets accepted. In other places, you could wait months for the right home to come on the market, or you could get outbid time and time again before an offer is finally accepted. According to Zillow research, the average time spent shopping is about four and a half months. 

5. Make an offer and negotiate

3–5 days

When you find a home that seems like “the one,” your real estate agent will help you put together an offer. Then it’s time to wait for the seller to accept, decline, or negotiate with you. This can be speedy if you’re trying to buy a foreclosure, but in a seller’s market, you may be held in suspense a bit longer as you await a response. The seller may accept or reject your offer, or they may send you a counteroffer, kicking off a round of negotiations.

6. Get your loan approved

1–2 months

If you’re already pre-approved for your mortgage, now is the time for you and your agent to gather the necessary documents for your lender to complete the underwriting process and approve the loan. This is known as the closing process. So how long does it take to close on a house? The average is 50 days, but the next two steps can and should be completed while you’re waiting for your closing day.

7. Wait for the appraisal

1–2 weeks

Your lender will hire a professional to conduct an appraisal to determine your home’s value. The appraisal is usually scheduled within a week, and then it takes about three days for the report to come in. You don’t have to do a thing except wait for the result—and hope it’s higher than the price you negotiated. If not, you may have to increase your down payment or renegotiate with the seller.

8. Get a home inspection

1–3 weeks

Not to be confused with the appraisal, you’ll also hire a home inspector to determine whether there are any unpleasant surprises hiding in your new home. You typically have 10 days to complete the inspection. It takes 24 hours to get the inspection report, and then it could take a week or more to renegotiate if any unexpected problems turn up.

9. Close on your new home

1 day

The hard stuff is over, and you’ve got one last, long appointment to close on your house. After handing over your down payment and closing costs and signing a truly alarming amount of paperwork, you’re officially a homeowner.

With an understanding of the timing for home buying, you can start thinking about what to look for when buying a house. Or, if you’re ready to start looking, find a place you’ll love to live on Trulia.