How long does it take to find a house?

#383 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 2001, Hills Newspapers

“How long should I allow to find a house?” a friend asks. “Does six months seem reasonable?” Her lease runs until next May, and it would be nice not to have to pay both rent and a mortgage.

“I wish I could tell you,” I say. “Six months might be just right for you.”

Theoretically, I suppose, it is possible to look for and find a house in a single day. This must have happened to someone sometime. But most people take a good deal longer. Some take years.

Unless you are looking for a house that is really different, a very difficult find, most of whatever time it takes to buy is not taken up with looking. It is taken up with getting ready. There is some indefinable something that happens to people, something they need to get through before they are able to buy.

There are different parts to the process. First, there is wondering and worrying, the Thinking About It In Theory phase. “Is buying what I want to do? Can I afford a house I will find appealing? Where can I round up enough money?”

For some people, even those who have plenty of money, there is a wrestle with commitment. “Do I want to stay in this town, this neighborhood, a particular place? What if I decide to go back to school…move back home again…take a sabbatical…?”

For others, not having enough money amassed is the greatest problem. They’d like to have their own place (they’re pretty sure), but what they can afford is inferior in all ways to what they can rent.

Stage two: Gathering Info But Not Making Up My Mind Yet. This is when it is good to talk to a mortgage broker or lender, to admit the truth about income, debt and credit glitches. Often there are talks with parents about a gift or loan. Some people read books about buying. And they look at houses.

Looking is a free pastime. All you have to do is follow the open home guide in the newspaper, and go to see the houses. You can look at anything – houses you can afford, houses you can’t. Some people find this phase so fascinating that it becomes, for awhile at least, their hobby. Others are instantly bored and/or dismayed.

It is impossible to anticipate how long it will take anyone to go through these two phases before either quitting and doing something else or going on to stage three.

Stage three: You’re going to do it. You have your money, know how much you can borrow, have looked at enough houses to know that it will be possible to buy one you will be happy living in. Looking at houses is no longer a diversion. You are ready to zero in on the one you will buy.

And when you reach that place (believe me), the house will appear. Not a perfect house. You will still have “wonderments” and “scaries.” But, all of a sudden, here it is. This looks like the one. You have a fantasy about this house that you haven’t had before with other houses. You see yourself waking up late on Sunday morning, carrying a tray with jam and toast into the garden to sit on the bench you are going to buy and place there so you can read and eat and watch and listen to the birds in your yard.

Congratulations, you are now at reckoning! You are going to do it! How long did it take you to get here? Two months? Twelve?

For my friend whose lease is up in May, it would be about right if she comes to reckoning in March. If she’s committed, if she can afford her choice, if nothing really strange comes up, 45 days should allow time to inspect the house, get her loan, tell her landlord about her plans, and move — with time to spare.

Please note that those six weeks are fast though, especially the first couple. Once you have reached reckoning and moved on it, you will have to mean it. It is during this time that we hear buyers say, “Oh, I didn’t realize it would go this fast. Oh, does this mean it is really happening?” Yes and yes.

There are inspections and the lender needs paycheck stubs. The house needs new gutters. Your contingency must be removed. The seller didn’t mention the sump pump before. Gosh, is there lead paint in the house? Hurry, hurry, hurry. Don’t go out of town right now.

Then nothing. Wait and wait. The lender is appraising, thinking, looking over you and the house. There is nothing for you to do but wait.

So you start packing, and you think about where you will put your books in your house, and won’t wisteria look pretty (a white one) over the back door (you could build a trellis), and maybe you won’t have professional movers, but maybe it would be a good idea. You’re going to like it there.

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