How to Start Process of Buying a Home — Home Buying Process Checklist

By Julia Califano · July 25, 2023 · 9 minute read

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How to Start Process of Buying a Home — Home Buying Process Checklist

The decision to buy a home is a significant milestone in life, representing stability, security, and investment. The process of purchasing a home, however, can be complex and overwhelming, especially for first-time homebuyers. There are numerous steps involved, some more complex than others, and you generally need to follow the steps in a certain order to ensure everything goes smoothly.

To help you navigate the home-buying process successfully, we’ve created a simple step-by-step home-buying checklist. Each item you cross off the list will bring you one step closer to achieving your dream of home ownership.

10 Key Steps to Buying a House

1. Determine How Much House You Can Afford

The first step in the home-buying process is to evaluate your financial situation and determine a realistic budget. While a lender can tell you how much of a mortgage you can get approved for, you may want to do some calculations on your own to make sure your budget doesn’t get stretched too thin. A general rule of thumb is to spend no more than 28% of your gross monthly income on housing costs, including mortgage (interest and principal), property taxes, insurance, and any association fees.

Using a home affordability calculator can help you determine how much house you can afford to buy by taking into account your income, debts, location, and down payment amount.

2. Make a Plan for the Down Payment

Once you have a budget in mind, you’ll need to plan for the down payment. You may have heard that you need to make a 20% down payment on a home, but that’s really just the threshold many lenders use for requiring private mortgage insurance (PMI) on a conventional loan.

The minimum down payment you need to make for a house will depend on the type of mortgage you’re planning to apply for. Loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) usually do not require a down payment, while FHA loans, which are backed by the Federal Housing Administration, may require as little as 3.5% down.

When choosing how much to put down, however, you’ll want to keep in mind that a higher down payment brings down the principal (and lifetime interest payments), which can lower the total cost of homeownership.

3. Get Preapproved for Your Mortgage

Working with a lender to get preapproved for a mortgage is an essential step that demonstrates your seriousness as a buyer and strengthens your position in negotiations. You may want to shop around and look at mortgage offerings and rates from different lenders before you choose a lender for preapproval. Keep in mind, though, that you do not have to use the same lender to finance your loan that you use for your preapproval.

In order to get preapproved, a lender will usually require a significant amount of information and documentation. This may include:

•  Income statements (such as W2s, 1099s, and tax returns)

•  Proof of assets (such as bank statements and retirement accounts)

•  Debts (including student loans, credit cards, and any other mortgages)

•  Records of bankruptcies and foreclosures

•  Current rent

Once you submit all your paperwork, the lender will assess your financial situation and preapprove you for a specific loan amount, which will be spelled out in a preapproval letter. This letter will give you a clear understanding of your buying power. It can also come in handy when submitting an offer, since it shows sellers and real estate agents that you’re a serious buyer who will be able to get financing.

A preapproval letter is typically valid for only 90 days (sometimes less), after which it will need to be updated.

💡 Quick Tip: Buying a home shouldn’t be aggravating. Online mortgage loan forms can make applying quick and simple.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

4. Find the Right Real Estate Agent

The right real estate agent can make a significant difference in your home-buying experience. A knowledgeable and experienced agent will guide you through the process, provide valuable insights, and negotiate on your behalf. Ideally, you want to choose an agent who understands your needs, has expertise in the local market, and communicates effectively. You may want to ask for recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues, then interview at least three agents before choosing the one you want to work with.

Recommended: Preparing to Buy a House in 8 Simple Steps

5. Shop for Your Home

With the help of your real estate agent, you can begin the fun part of the home-buying process — searching for your dream home. Before you start, it can be a good idea to create a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves, considering factors such as location, size, amenities, and proximity to schools, workplaces, and amenities. This will help guide your realtor in finding the right homes to show you.

6. Make an Offer

When you find a home that fits the bill, you’ll want to work with your agent to make a competitive offer that reflects your budget and market conditions. Your agent will then prepare a complete offer package, which will include your offer price, any special terms or contingencies, your preapproval letter, and (in some cases) proof of funds for a down payment. If the seller accepts your offer, congratulations — you only have a few more steps left in the home-buying process. At this point, you will likely need to write a check that will serve as a deposit on the home. This typically goes into an escrow account.

7. Get a Mortgage

Once your offer is accepted, you’ll need to get official approval for a mortgage. You’re not obligated to go with the same lender that issued your preapproval, so you may want to shop around and compare rates and terms from different banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

If you do decide to officially apply for your loan with the same lender that did your preapproval, they already have many of the documents you’ll need for your application. However, you will likely need to provide updated and perhaps additional financial statements. If you apply with a new lender, you’ll need to supply much of the same information as you did for preapproval.

The lender will evaluate your financial information, review your creditworthiness, and conduct an appraisal of the property. You’ll want to be sure to work closely with your lender and respond quickly to any requests to ensure a smooth and timely mortgage approval process.

8. Get a Home Inspection

A home inspection is a crucial step to uncover any potential issues or defects in the property. For this step, you’ll likely need to hire a professional home inspector to assess the condition of the home, including its structure, systems, and components. The inspector will provide a detailed report highlighting any areas of concern. Once you receive the inspector’s report, you’ll want to review it with your real estate agent and discuss potential repairs or negotiating points with the seller.

9. Negotiate any Repairs or Credits with the Seller

Based on the home inspection and lender’s appraisal results, you may need to negotiate repairs or credits with the seller. Your real estate agent will guide you through this process, helping you assess the necessary repairs/credits and determine fair solutions.

Your ability to negotiate with the seller will likely depend on the current real estate market. If it’s a hot seller’s market, for example, it may be challenging to get concessions, since the seller can move on to the next offer. However, if it’s an issue that will likely come with other buyers, you may have success. In a buyer’s market, there will typically be more room for negotiation at this stage of the process.

10. Close the Sale

The final step in the home-buying process is the closing. During the closing, you and the sellers will sign legal and financial documents and ownership of the property is transferred to you. It’s important to review all the closing documents carefully, including the settlement statement, loan documents, and homeowner’s insurance. You’ll also need to provide all the necessary funds, including the down payment and closing costs. Once the final paperwork is executed, you will receive the keys to your new home. Congratulations, you’re a homeowner!

The Takeaway

Buying a home is a multi-step process that starts with assessing your current income and expenses and determining how much you can afford to spend on a home. You then need to start saving up for a downpayment, get preapproved for financing, and find the right home. Once you have an offer accepted, it’s time to secure a mortgage, conduct an inspection, negotiate repairs, and close on the sale. It’s a lot. But taking a systematic approach — and following a home-buying checklist — can help ensure a smooth and stress-free home-buying experience.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.


What are the 3 most important things when buying a house?

Three of the most important things to consider when buying a house are:

•  Location The location of a property impacts your life in a number of key ways, including commute times, access to amenities, schools, safety, and future property value.

•  Affordability A home’s affordability includes not just the purchase price but also ongoing expenses, such as mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs. You’ll want to be sure you can comfortably afford the monthly payments without stretching your finances too thin.

•  Condition of the property It’s important to assess the condition of the property through an inspection before you buy. Consider factors such as age, maintenance requirements, repairs needed, and potential future costs.

What is the most difficult step in buying a house?

Securing financing and obtaining a mortgage is often the most challenging step in buying a house. To qualify for a mortgage, you generally need to meet certain criteria, understand various mortgage options, and navigate the loan approval process, which involves providing extensive financial documentation and meeting strict timelines.

What are the 5 phases of buying a home?

The process of buying a home can be broken down into five distinct phases:

•  Planning and preparation This involves evaluating your finances, establishing a budget, saving for a down payment, and obtaining preapproval for a mortgage.
Property search In this phase, you actively search for properties that align with your criteria and budget.

•  Offer and negotiation Once you find your ideal property, you submit an offer to the seller. This phase may involve negotiation, where you and the seller work to find mutually acceptable terms with the help of your real estate agent.

•  Closing process The closing process includes reviewing and signing various legal and financial documents, such as the purchase agreement, mortgage paperwork, and insurance policies.

•  Ownership and moving in At this stage, you complete the closing, make the necessary payments, and receive the keys to your new home. You may also need to coordinate with movers, set up utilities, and take care of other logistics related to the move.

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*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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