For many young professionals, buying a home is thought of as a right of passage. It’s how you prove to yourself that you’ve made it to financial stability. Once you have a stable paycheck and enough money in savings, and you know where you want to live, you might be ready to take the next step and call yourself a homeowner. It can’t be that hard, right?
That’s absolutely right. Buying a home isn’t hard… if you have the right agent. That doesn’t mean the process is quick, though. Most homebuyers need 30-45 days to get from the point where your offer on a home has been accepted, to legally owning the home (known as the closing process). But those 45 days aren’t the end-all-be-all of buying a home: the timeline actually spans anywhere from six months to one year. Here’s what you need to make time for.
6-12 months before purchase: Hiring a real estate agent.
Before picking a real estate agent, take the time to have a consultation with them face-to-face. You may be spending a lot of time with your real estate agent, so you will want to make sure you click with him or her.
During the first consultation, your agent should walk you through every step of the home buying process. Not only should the agent answer all your questions, but they should also be asking you questions to better understand your needs and top priorities for your future home.
Your agent should also explain the paperwork required to hire them. Before an agent can advise you or give you their professional opinion about a given property, Virginia, D.C., and Maryland laws require a signed agreement stating that the agent and their brokerage represent the buyer. As with any contract, make sure you understand and are comfortable with the agreement in its totality.
You may not know exactly what kind of property you want at this point, and that is OK. Hiring your real estate agent at the beginning of your journey will help your agent better understand what your needs are, and encourage you to consider ideas you wouldn’t have thought of on your own (such as neighborhoods you didn’t know about, or properties that are still being built). Your agent will also be able to show you properties in neighborhoods you are considering, to help you understand what those homes are like on the inside before you decide on a target neighborhood. And, once you do settle on a kind of property and location, your agent will be able to keep an ear out for upcoming listings their colleagues are talking about in the office. That could give you an advantage if the seller is willing to accept an offer before their listing “goes live” to other agents. )
6-12 months before purchase: Hiring a mortgage lender.
The goal here is very similar to hiring a real estate agent. The key is to find a mortgage lender that you like and trust. You are going to have to lay out all your dirty financial laundry in front of this person…so get comfy and prepare to bare it all! (Note: I list this as the second step because your real estate agent will probably be able to introduce you to some local mortgage lenders.)
During your first consultation with a mortgage lender, you will learn what’s required to take out a mortgage loan. The lender will ask you about your income, your debts, and your savings, to help determine what type of mortgage loan is best for you.
At this stage, you will get pre-qualified for a mortgage loan. The pre-qualification is an estimate of the amount of money the lender is willing to lend you, given your financial info and estimated credit score. It also gives you an estimate of what your monthly mortgage payment would be. The pre-qualification is for informational purposes only: to give you some direction about what price range you should be looking in for your future home.
4-5 months before purchase: Get Pre-Approved for a mortgage.
A pre-approval is different from a pre-qualification. A pre-approval requires a credit inquiry, since the mortgage lender is making a formal commitment that they will lend you up to a maximum amount of money to purchase your home (as long as certain conditions are met).
While a mortgage pre-approval isn’t legally necessary before putting an offer on a property, in our market, it is practically required: You’ll want to include the actual pre-approval letter when you send the seller your offer. If a seller and their agent receive an offer without a pre-approval from the buyer’s lender, they’re going to wonder why it’s missing: “Is it because there’s no way the buyers can afford this house? Is it because their credit score is too low to get a loan? Am I wasting my time even considering this offer?” If you submit with your offer without a pre-approval letter, don’t be surprised if the seller goes right for another offer that does have the lender letter… and doesn’t think twice about yours!
3-4 months before target purchase date: Start looking for the perfect home!
Who would have guessed that there are three whole steps to complete before you get to do the fun part?!
Here you are: house hunting, finally. It’s important to give yourself enough time to find the right home. Especially in a “seller’s market,” like we have right now. Inventory is low, which means there aren’t many options on the market at any given time. The hot listings are getting multiple offers, which means you are competing with other buyers who want the same property. Unfortunately, you may not get the first house you put an offer on, and you need to allow time to move on from that dream home and fall in love with another one. Read more about being a buyer in a “seller’s market” here.
30-45 days before purchase: Escrow
If you’re in escrow, that means your offer has been accepted. AKA, you are “under contract.” AKA, you are working your way towards “closing,” which is when you get the keys and you officially own the home.
During the escrow period, a number of things can, and usually should, happen (according to the terms of your sales contract): examples include the home inspection, review of condo documents, appraisal, title search, and final walk-through of the property.
It’s mostly the buyer’s responsibility to make sure these steps are completed. If anything goes wrong, you risk breaching the sales contract and the deal falling apart. Real estate deals do fall through, especially if one or both of the parties don’t have a professional representing them. But, let this give you some peace of mind: Your agent knows the process backwards and forwards. They will be the one to keep up with the contingency deadlines, get everything back on track when obstacles do come up, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
You and your agent attend “closing,” AKA “settlement”, usually with the sellers and their agent. A title attorney will go through all the legal forms with you, and you will sign papers until your hand feels numb. Then, you get to walk away with the keys, and go home to your new home!
Thanks for reading,
Keller Williams Realty
2101 Wilson Blvd. Ste. 100
Arlington, VA 22201