Few experiences in life can be as exhilarating — or as nerve-wracking — as buying a new home. For first-time homebuyers, especially, buying a house may be the most trying financial experience of their lives. After all, they are making what is likely the single biggest transaction they have to date.
But many people are unprepared for just how complicated and drawn-out the homebuying process can be. While buyers may be chomping at the bit to close, get their keys and move in, for example, they may find that they’re instead waiting weeks, or even months, for all the loose ends to tie up.
Which brings us to an important question that’s relevant to all homebuyers: Just how long does it take to buy a house? Unfortunately, buying a home isn’t like buying a new car — you’re not going to drive the car off the lot the same day you buy it.
How Long Does it Take to Buy a House?
There isn’t an easy or clear-cut answer to how long it takes to buy a house. A lot of factors and variables are at play, and the length of each transaction is going to depend on those variables. Those could include where you’re buying a home, how you’re planning to pay for it and the condition of the property.
But let’s say, for example, that you’re buying a house in New York City and paying for it with cash. This is more or less a best-case scenario — there’s no financing to deal with, co-op or condo boards that need to approve the sale. In this case, the fastest timeline to close would likely be 30 days.
However, this isn’t the case for most homebuyers. For that reason, it may be best to answer the question with a range of time. And a likely time frame for most homebuyers, from the point that their offer is accepted, is to expect the process to take between 45 and 90 days.
That’s right — it can take months for the whole process to play out. Also keep in mind that there are many things that can trip the process up, and drag it out even longer.
The homebuying process is a series of bottlenecks, and each of them can slow the process down. Generally speaking, the fewer bottlenecks, the faster the process should go. But there are a lot of potential holdups: financing, inspections, repairs, renegotiations and more. All of these, in aggregate, can take months, or even up to a year to get through.
[Read: Should I Buy a House Now?]
A Look at the Process
Let’s run through an example of how the process may work for someone in New York City.
Once a buyer’s offer is accepted, he or she will need to work with an attorney to draw up a contract and potentially do additional due diligence on the property — that can take a week or two. When the contract is ultimately finished and signed, then a deposit is held in escrow.
From there, buyers who are financing need to get an appraisal, and the bank will do its due diligence and issue appropriate documents, like commitment letters. This can take weeks or months depending on the situation, and if the bank has a backlog of borrowers lined up, it may take even longer.
If the property in question is a co-op or condo, the buyers will need to complete a board package, which includes letters of recommendation and other notarized documents. This can add another several weeks to the process.
Then, credit checks are done, the board conducts its review and interviews are conducted — it’s an involved, complicated and time-consuming system. Don’t forget that the pandemic has slowed some of these processes down, too, so things can take even longer.
Buying Time in the City vs. Suburbs or Small Towns
Of course, buying a home in New York City is a different experience than buying one somewhere else. For example, Meredith Kamo, a real estate agent working for Compass in Connecticut, explains that buyers are often surprised by just how long it takes to buy a house.
“The expectation is that the process, from accepted offer to contract, should move at lightning speed,” Kamo says. The only way that she says buyers can speed things up is by being prepared, ready to show sellers that they’re serious, and being willing to act fast.
“If buyers want their offer to be accepted, they must illustrate to the seller that they are prepared to shorten the typical timeline for due diligence,” Kamo says. “Sellers want to know that their buyer is solid. Buyers want to win the property and then lock in their home before someone else scoops it up.”
Even so, Kamo says the typical timeline to buy a house in her area is roughly the same as it is in New York City, but perhaps a little quicker: between 45 and 60 days. Again, that depends on myriad factors, and the true timeline will be determined by the variables affecting each individual sale.
Buyers: Prepare to Hurry Up and Wait
There’s really no way to sugar-coat it: Buying a house is a complicated process, and it’ll probably take longer than you anticipated. Buyers should be prepared for that, even in a hot real estate market where properties are being scooped up almost as fast as they’re being listed.
That said, it can be a hurry-up-and-wait type of feeling. If you’re actively house-hunting, you may want to (or be willing to, in some cases) put an offer out there fast. But once that offer is accepted, be ready for things to slow down, especially if you’re buying a condominium, a co-op, or planning on financing the home.
Be ready for the whole drama to play out over a couple of months. There’s a lot of moving parts and things that need to get done between having your offer accepted and when you get your hands on the keys, but if your dream is to own a home, waiting a little extra time will be worth it.
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