How to Buy a House: The Process and What to Expect

For Sale Sign outside home with curb appeal
The easiest way to market your home is to simply set a ‘For Sale’ sign outside. (DepositPhotos)

Ready to buy a house? Then congratulations on making one of the most rewarding decisions of your life! With 5.25 million homes sold in 2019, you’re in good company.

Each home sale is unique, and some take longer than others. While we can’t cover every scenario, here’s an overview of a basic home sale.


Black woman searching the web for affordable furniture for her home renovation
(DepositPhotos)

Finding Financing

Before you fall in love with a house, first find out how much home you can afford — which is usually three to five times your annual household income — and get prequalified for a mortgage. Doing so just requires you to submit some basic financial information (like your income and any savings or investments) so you know the price ranges of homes to consider.

Next, you’ll need to get preapproved for credit, which is a more involved process requiring you to break out your W-2s, bank statements, pay stubs and anything else that can prove your financial standing and ability to repay a loan.

Unless you fall in love with the first home you see, you’ll spend around 30 to 60 days browsing online listings and classified ads, in addition to viewing homes with a real estate agent.

This is a good time to note any price changes on homes that interest you, and watch how long they stay on the market. This will help you set reasonable expectations. 

If you’re shopping in a competitive market, finding an ideal home can be challenging. A hot market is full of buyers like you who may beat you to submitting an offer.

But if you’re looking in an area with few homes, it may take even longer to find your dream home.


Water-damaged foundation with bricks showing
Water is your foundation’s biggest enemy. (DepositPhotos)

Making an Offer

Once you find your dream home, you should look at the home closely and check for any major issues, such as structural damage or anything that could seriously put the home and your family at risk.

Listen and Learn: 14 Things that First-Time Homebuyers Must Inspect

If the home is in good shape, make an offer and wait for the seller’s response. Most purchase contracts have a deadline, such as 72 hours, for the seller to accept or reject the offer. If the seller makes a counteroffer, that extends the purchase’s timeline.

And, keep in mind, you may have to go through multiple counteroffers, not to mention competing offers!

That’s right — if it looks like your dream home, it probably looks like someone else’s dream home too. If a seller receives multiple offers, you’ll need to counteroffer with a better deal.

This could mean increasing the earnest money (which gives the seller peace of mind because it’s what you forfeit if the deal doesn’t go through), paying the difference between the property’s appraised value and your offer in cash, agreeing to do some of the repairs, and of course, offering the highest amount you can afford for the home.

Some buyers even write personal letters to appeal to the seller’s emotions! It’s not a surefire dealmaker, but in some cases, it couldn’t hurt!  

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