Great question, Corey!
Because we can provide you with much more professional advice and assistance than just opening doors and touring homes, I suggest you determine and ENGAGE YOUR REALTOR as SOON as you are really serious about buying a home -- even 6 months or a year in advance!
While you may not be touring homes that entire time, The MartySellsHouses.Com team likes to really get to know the needs of our clients and -- as former educators -- we also have the knowledge and tools to help you determine and assess NEIGHBORHOODS and SCHOOLS . . . beyond what you can find online yourself.
FIRST, you also need to get PRE-QUALIFIED for a loan EARLY. Home sellers and REALTORS want to work with pre-qualified buyers. Shop at least three lenders including your personal bank or credit union, and several mortgage banks and brokers. You want to find the lender that will provide you with not only a competitive interest rate but also reasonable closing costs . . . and great SERVICE. Nothing messes up the home buying process more than working with a lender who doesn't have their act together! If you need lender referrals, your REALTOR can share those with you.
AFTER THAT, the length of TIME involved in the actual HOME PURCHASE PROCESS varies depending on your TYPE OF FINANCING. When borrowing, Conventional loans with 20% down take the shortest amount of time to process and close; FHA and VA loans take the longest. Cash deals can be closed within days of an executed contract.
Here's a BREAKDOWN of the TYPICAL home buying PROCESS (when you have NO CURRENT HOME to sell . . . which is a whole different ballgame!):
--Loan PREAPPROVAL (48 hours to several months, depending upon your employment, credit and cash situation) -- Do this first, to determine how much you can really afford, accumulate down payment, and clean up any credit issues.
--SEARCHING for homes (online. . . perhaps months prior) -- Once you are serious, this could take a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on how specific you are and the availability of homes in your targeted area. (This is another reason to engage your REALTOR early, they can advise you about this related to your specific area and needs.)
--Offer, negotiation and CONTRACT execution process (2 days to a week) -- Remember: this cannot occur unless you are preapproved for financing.
--Option period for inspections – Negotiable, but most often 10 days.
--FINANCING contingency period -- 25-30 days from contract execution date (this is where great lender service makes a difference!)
--CLOSING -- 31- 45 days from contract execution date (depending upon type of financing)
--POSSESSION -- Upon funding (generally within hours or the next day after closing)
Based on these typical timeframes, I suggest you ENGAGE your REALTOR at least TWO MONTHS ahead of time . . . but EARLIER than this to MAXIMIZE your SERVICE.