Home Buying Checklist

By Jennifer Tucker
December 19, 2023 | 7 Min. Read

Buying a home is a big milestone in many people’s lives. But especially for first-time homebuyers, understanding how to buy a house can be overwhelming and even a bit intimidating.

If you’re thinking about buying a home, you might be wondering, “What are the steps to buying a house?” and “How long does it take to buy a house?” Here, we explain the process from start to finish so you understand what to expect and can embark on your journey to homeownership with confidence.

Before you begin searching for a home, it’s helpful to understand what the home buying process looks like. It’s also important to note that once you begin the process, you should avoid changing jobs, requesting additional credit (such as an auto loan, credit card, or other forms of financing), and making large cash purchases. Any of these things can impact your credit score, which is one of the most significant factors influencing a lender’s decision to approve you for a mortgage.

Everyone’s journey is a little different, but the typical 10 steps to buying a house look like this:

The first step to buying a home is getting pre-approved for a mortgage loan. This involves finding a lender, such as a bank or credit union, that you want to work with. To initiate pre-approval, you’ll provide the lender with your financial information, including your income, credit history, and debt. Then the lender will evaluate your credit worthiness and determine how much they are willing to lend you to buy a home. You can usually be pre-approved for a mortgage in just one day.

A realtor, also known as a buyer’s agent, can help you find and buy your dream home. Throughout the process, they’ll play an important role in communicating with the seller and negotiating the sale. An experienced real estate agent offers valuable insights into the local housing market.

Your lender, friends, or family can recommend agents in the area or whom they’ve worked with in the past. It’s important to find someone you connect with who understands your goals.

Some homebuyers are excited about house hunting, and others think it’s a drag. You can make it easier (and fun!) by making a list of your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and deal-breakers. This can help guide your real estate agent, saving you time touring homes.

Is your heart set on a ranch-style home? Do you need a big yard for the dog and kids? Setting your priorities will help you narrow down your choices. The typical homebuyer looks at about ten homes over several weeks before deciding on a home to buy.

Once you find your future home, it’s time to submit an offer. Your realtor will help you make an offer on the house, including hashing out details like earnest money and contingencies. Once you’ve made your offer, the seller may make a counteroffer. Negotiations generally take one or two days before you have an accepted offer.

Once you’ve negotiated and received an accepted offer, it’s time to get ready for closing. In preparation for finalizing your loan, loan processors review your mortgage application to ensure they have everything needed for approval. Then your application goes to an underwriter for verification. Underwriters thoroughly examine your credit report, credit score, and the property details.

At the start of the mortgage process, your lender will order an appraisal and title search. You might also opt to order a home inspection at this time.

A home appraisal determines the value of a home through an inspection by a third-party appraiser. The appraiser performs a visual inspection and collects property and housing market data, which is used to determine the home’s value.

A title search is performed by a title company to determine who owns the home and has the right to sell it. The goal is to ensure the seller has the right to sell the home and protect your future homeownership.

A home inspection provides insight into the current condition of a home. You’re not required to get a home inspection, but it’s recommended and sometimes a contingency in the contract.

While you’re waiting for the title and appraisal to come in, you may be asked to provide other documentation to your lender. The easiest way to expedite the mortgage process is to make sure you provide the requested documents in a timely manner. Working closely with your lender will ensure a smooth approval process.

Once your loan has been approved, you’ll receive a “clear to close” from your lender. This means your loan has been approved and the paperwork is ready to be signed at your closing meeting.

Closing on your loan can be a lengthy process because there is a lot of due diligence to be done. The timing to complete the full process can vary from 30 to 60 days. Once closing day arrives, you’re near the finish line. At your closing meeting, you’ll sign the final paperwork on your loan. Some lenders also facilitate closely remotely, with online document signing.

You’ll also make your down payment at closing. You may have heard you need to make a 20% down payment to buy a home. A down payment this large isn’t realistic for everyone, so many lenders have taken steps to make homeownership more accessible. Speak to a lender at Marine Credit Union to find ways to make your down payment more manageable.

In some cases, the sellers will hand over the keys to your new home on the same day as closing. However, sellers generally have 7 to 10 days to vacate the home after the closing date. No matter when you plan to move in, you can look forward to the sense of accomplishment that comes with successfully navigating the home buying process!

Everyone’s journey to homeownership is different. The typical 10 steps to buying a house include:

  1. Get pre-approved for a mortgage loan.
  2. Find a realtor.
  3. Find the home you want to purchase.
  4. Make an offer and receive acceptance from the seller.
  5. Begin the mortgage process.
  6. Your lender orders the appraisal and title search (and you may order a home inspection).  
  7. Submit requested financial documents.
  8. Receive the clear to close.
  9. Complete closing and sign your mortgage documents.
  10. Accept the keys and enjoy homeownership!

The first thing you should do when you want to buy a house is get pre-approved for a mortgage loan. Mortgage pre-approval involves finding a lender, such as a bank or credit union. You’ll provide them with your financial information, including your income, credit history, and debt. The lender will evaluate your credit worthiness and determine how much they are willing to lend you to buy a home.

Mortgage pre-approval is important for a few reasons. First, it helps you understand how much home you can afford based on how much the bank or credit union will lend you. Second, it makes you more attractive to sellers by demonstrating that you’re a serious homebuyer and able to secure financing.

Before you buy a home, you should have enough money for a down payment, closing costs, and a financial cushion for other unexpected expenses.

The specific amount of money you should have before buying a house can vary based on many factors, like the price of the home and the type of mortgage you choose. A general guideline is to save for a down payment of at least 10% of the home’s purchase price and count on closing costs between 2-5% of the price of the home.

Homebuyers are typically advised to make a down payment of 10-20% of the home’s purchase price. This means that to buy a $200,000 home, you would need a down payment between $20,000 and $40,000. A down payment this large isn’t realistic for everyone, so many lenders have taken steps to make homeownership more accessible. Today, the average down payment for a home is closer to 6%.

You can use our free online down payment calculator to estimate the amount of your down payment.

The timeline for getting a mortgage depends on many factors, like your financial situation, the lender’s processes, and market conditions. So, realistically, how long does it take to buy a house? On average, it can take 30 to 45 days from the time you submit your application to the closing of the loan.

Why does it take a long time to buy a house? The reasons the process can be time-consuming are varied. Finding the right home that fits your needs and budget can take time, especially in a competitive real estate market. The negotiation phase with the seller may also require back-and-forth discussion, adding to the timeline. Additionally, the mortgage process can be delayed if there are issues with your credit history or financial documentation. Finally, the closing process can take several weeks of coordination between various parties, including the buyer, seller, lender, and title company.

To expedite the home buying process, have all your financial documents in order and respond promptly to lender requests. Working closely with your lender will ensure a smooth approval process.

Marine Credit Union can help you find the right mortgage loan to reach your goals. Keep your loan in the community. Get in touch with a Marine Credit Union lender today.

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