A Step By Step Look at Buying a House

female real estate agent handing over house keys
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The specific way you progress through a home buying transaction varies depending on the real estate laws and customs where you live, but there are many steps to buying a house that are standard, even though they might not be accomplished in the same order in every location.

You'll feel more confident about your home buying journey when you understand what is required of you and every other person who is involved in the transaction.

This guide takes you through it, and shows you that you've got only 11 steps to buying a house.

Step 1 to Buying a House: Get Your Finances in Order

Your credit reports are an ongoing record of how you manage your finances. You must know exactly what your credit reports say about your financial history before you apply for a mortgage, because the reports play an important role in the mortgage approval process and in determining the interest rate and other loan terms that a lender offers you.

If you haven't looked at your credit reports, you might be surprised at their contents, because errors are common. Ideally, you don't want any late payments. One late pay is bad; four will kill you.

Background Reading

  1. What's on Your Credit Report and How Did it Get There?
  2. How To Check Your Credit Report
  3. Clean Up Your Credit Report
  4. Understanding Your Credit Scores
  5. How to Improve Your Credit Scores

Step 2 to Buying a House: Get Familiar with the Mortgage Industry

Finding the right loan and lender is crucial to your home buying success.

It's up to you to determine which lender is best for your needs, and it's always a good idea to have at least a bit of background about the loan process before you talk to a lender.

Background Reading

  1. What's the Difference Between a Mortgage Broker and a Bank Loan Officer?
  2. Understanding Your Debt to Income Ratio
  1. Should You Choose an Adjustable Rate Mortgage?
  2. FHA Loan Basics
  3. VA Home Loan Facts
  4. Bi-Weekly Mortgage Payment Plans
  5. Should You Really Buy Discount Points?
  6. Facts About Private Mortgage Insurance
  7. Will You Have a Mortgage or a Deed of Trust? Why Does it Matter?
  8. Watch Out for Loan Fraud

Step 3 to Buying a House: Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

Do you know how much house you can afford? Probably not, unless you've talked with a lender.

Pre-approval helps you in other ways. Consider this scenario. A home seller gets two similar offers. One is accompanied by a letter from the buyer's bank that states she is pre-approved for a mortgage in the amount of the offer. The other has no supporting documents. Which offer do you think the seller will consider first?

Background Reading

  1. Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval, Which Do You Need?
  2. Using Online Mortgage Calculators to Analyze Your Loan Possibilities

Step 4 to Buying a House: Determine Your Wants and Needs

Buying a home isn't as difficult as you might think, even if you're short on funds, but the process will go a lot smoother if you get familiar with your real estate market and narrow down your wants and needs before you start looking at houses.

Background Reading

  1. Sort Out Your Wants and You Needs
  2. Considering Resale Potential
  3. When You Need Help with Downpayment Funds

Step 5 to Buying a House: Learn to Work with Real Estate Agents

Real estate agents represent buyers, sellers, or both--and in some states they can work as neutral facilitators for either party. It's essential to understand agent duties and loyalties before you make that first phone call.

Background Reading

  1. Does Your Agent Work for You?
  2. How To Work with a Seller's Agent
  3. What You Should Expect from a Buyer's Agent
  4. How To Hire a Buyer's Agent
  5. How a Buyer's Agent Becomes a Dual Agent
  6. Common Myths About Working with Real Estate Agents
  7. Your Duties to Your Agent
  8. Dealing with Incompetent and Unethical People

 

Step 6 to Buying a House:  Start Searching for a Home

Your agent will give you multiple listing sheets to study.

I'm sure you'll also pick up House For Sale magazines and read classified ads in your local newspapers. You'll probably spend time surfing the Internet for homes. You might even plan afternoon drives to preview neighborhoods. Those are all excellent ways to see what's available. Here are some tools to help you narrow your home buying search.

Home Buying Search Tools

  1. Consider the Houses that Others Overlook
  2. Search Public Versions of Multiple Listing Service Web Sites
  3. Find Real Estate Agent Web Sites
  4. Browse Real Estate Search Engines and Networks
  5. Find For Sale By Owner Properties
  6. Look at Print Magazines
  7. Find Foreclosed Homes

Step 7 to Buying a House: Handle Pre-Offer Tasks

Deciding whether or not you want to buy a house involves a look at its structure and its features, but there are many other topics that are every bit as important to your purchase. Here are a few topics you should explore before you make an offer.

Step 8 to Buying a House: Make an Offer

There's no one set of instructions that can cover all the differences in real estate laws and customs that exist throughout the United States, so the mechanics of making an offer and its specific contingencies depend greatly on your location. However, there are some home buying tips that can help you fine-tune your offer, no matter where you live.

Background Reading

  1. What Comes With the House? Contract Considerations
  2. What Should the Seller Disclose?
  3. Determine if Lead Paint Disclosures Are Required
  4. Decide How Much to Offer
  5. Asking for Possession Before Closing
  6. Special Considerations for For Sale By Owner Purchases

Step 9 to Buying a House: Home Inspections and Other Tests

In some states, home inspections are accomplished before the final purchase contract is signed. In other states, inspections take place after an offer is finalized. No matter when you do them, it's critical to decide which inspections and tests you want to perform.

Talk with your real estate agent or other advisor to find out when inspections should be handled and if additional types of testing are important for your specific area.

Background Reading

  1. Order a Full Home Inpsection
  2. Testing for Radon Gas
  3. Looking for Molds and Mildew
  4. Lead Paint Disclosures & Inspections for Pre-1978 Homes
  5. Is There a Private Well on the Property?
  6. Understanding and Checking the Septic System
  7. Should You Buy a Home Warranty?

Step 10 to Buying a House: Avoiding and Correcting Last Minute Problems

As your closing date nears, everyone involved in your real estate transaction should check its progress on a daily basis, because staying on top of things means you'll know immediately if there's a problem that must be dealt with. Here's a bit of information that focuses on a few common problems that home buyers must deal with before they close on a house.

Background Reading

  1. 10 Things You Shouldn't Do When You're Buying a Home
  2. Get the Facts About Residential Appraisal Methods
  3. How to Deal with a Low Appraisal

Step 11 to Buying a House: You're on the Way to Closing

Most of your home buying problems are behind you now and you're on your way to closing, also called settlement, the event that transfers ownership of the property to you. Just a few more things to learn, a few more things to do, and you're there!

Background Reading

  1. Coping with Buyer Remorse
  2. Get the Facts About Title Insurance
  3. Learn to Read the HUD-1 Settlement Statement
  4. Take Your Final Walk-Through

Closing Thoughts

The steps outlined in this article are a general home buying guide. You will encounter issues specific to your location and your transaction, issues that can best be explained and handled by your local real estate agent, your lender, your attorney, your closing agent, or others who are helping you complete the home buying transaction.

Never hesitate to ask questions. Ask as many questions as necessary to help you understand the entire home buying process. You are making a long-term commitment and spending a major amount of money--you'll feel much better about the transaction if you stay informed and understand what's happening every step along the way.

Edited by Elizabeth Weintraub, Home Buying / Selling Expert

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.