Timeline for closing a home sale

Several factors can delay approval process

Some home-sale transactions close quickly, while others can take months. Two significant factors that affect most home sales are inspections of the property and financing the purchase.

Inspections should be done within the first couple of weeks after the offer is ratified, i.e., accepted by both buyer and seller. Usually, the day after ratification is day one of the contingency and closing time periods. This may vary from one location to the next.

When transactions fall apart soon after ratification, the cause is usually something discovered during the buyer’s inspections. It’s a good idea for sellers to get presale inspection reports so that the buyers have as much information about the property as possible before they make an offer.

Most home inspection reports make recommendations to consult other specialists such as a roofer, furnace contractor, drainage specialist or engineer. Few sellers have these additional inspections done. Even if they do, the buyers might want a second opinion.

Inspections are also somewhat subjective. One inspector might say a roof needs to be replaced; another might say it has a few years of life left as long as it is properly maintained. Transactions fall apart because the buyer and seller can’t come to an agreement on inspections, which means the sale doesn’t close, the house goes back on the market and the buyers renew their home search.

If the inspection issues are worked out satisfactorily, the next major hurdle that could delay your sale, or crater it, is the loan contingency. Cash buyers bypass this rigorous process; however, they do need to provide the sellers with evidence that they have sufficient liquid funds to close the sale.

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All-cash deals can close whenever the buyers and sellers agree, after all inspection issues are resolved. Closing can occur in a week or two. Some all-cash buyers include an appraisal contingency in their contract to confirm that they’re not paying over market value.

In this case, it would take longer to close because an appraiser would need to visit the property and work up an appraisal report. If the property didn’t appraise for the purchase price, the buyer might be able to back out and have the deposit returned.

Both buyer and seller would start all over again. However, if they negotiated a resolution, the sale could close quickly and would take far less time than it does to close a sale involving a mortgage.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Purchase contracts include contingencies and time periods for them to be met. To avoid having to ask for extensions, make sure that the time periods you request are reasonable. An extension might not be granted if the seller has a backup offer for a higher price.

Buyers should get preapproved for the financing they need to close a home sale before their offer is accepted. This way, they are assured of what they can afford to pay. Preapproval can cut a few days off the loan approval process.

Loan approval can go relatively quickly if you present all required documentation promptly and your financial situation is not complicated. It can be more time consuming for buyers who are self-employed or are using other than W-2 income to qualify.

Part of loan approval involves an appraisal on the property by a licensed appraiser. This can slow the process down depending on the lender, how backlogged they are and the loan amount. A large loan amount can prompt the need for two appraisals, which adds more time to the approval process.

THE CLOSING: If you’re buying in an area where homes are selling quickly, it may take 35 to 45 days from contract acceptance for final loan approval and closing.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."

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