An Overview of the Home Buying Process in 2020

At a glance

If you think buying a home is intimidating, you’re not alone. It can feel complicated, and the realtor fees are expensive—especially in a real estate market like 2020. But there are ways to simplify selling your current home, buying a new one, and saving money in the process. We’ll walk you through the typical steps in the home buying process.

How to buy a home in 2020

Get preapproval for a loan

What is the first step to buying a house? Most people start by getting preapproval for a loan from a mortgage lender.

You can’t buy a home without money—even if it’s someone else’s cash (a mortgage loan). The mortgage broker or loan officer will tell you how much you qualify for based on your income and credit score. Tackle this step before you look for your dream home—there’s not much point looking at $600,000 houses if the credit union says you qualify for only a $400,000 home loan.

It’s also helpful to have some money ready to put down on your new house. Many realtors recommend a down payment of 20%—or about $70,000 for the average home in 2020.

Note: If you make a down payment of 20% or more, you don’t have to pay mortgage insurance. Those savings add up over a 15- or 30-year loan term.

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BOOST YOUR CREDIT SCORE

BOOST YOUR CREDIT SCORE

If your loan estimate is lower than your expected, look at your credit score. A higher credit score means a lower interest rate on your real estate loan—and that affects your buying power. So check your credit report and boost your credit to get a better loan offer.

Find a realtor

Don’t overlook the importance of a real estate agent when going through the steps to selling and buying a house. The selling homeowner pays realtor fees for both parties (a combined 6% commission is around $21K for the average home), but everyone benefits.

In addition to listing your current home, taking you from house to house, and answering your questions, realtors help the average homeowner sell their home for $80,000 more than owners who sell their homes without a realtor. That’s one reason 90% of homeowners use a realtor.1

For Sale by Owner vs. realtor-assisted selling prices

For Sale by OwnerRealtor
Selling price$200,000$280,000
Selling price
For Sale by Owner Realtor
$200,000 $280,000

Data as of 2018.

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HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE REALTOR?

HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE REALTOR?

Your pronounce realtor as reel-ter, not reel-it-ter. Impress your real estate agent by saying it correctly. Who knows—since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it might even help you negotiate your fee.

Prep your home

You can sell your house for more money if you fix up the right things. A good realtor will do a home inspection and tell you how to make it more attractive to buyers. It’s like dating: the right outfit can hide your insecurities and make you more appealing. And the more attractive your home is to buyers, the more they’ll pay.

List your home

Now that your home is ready for the red carpet, it’s time to walk the real estate runway and put it on the multiple listing service (MLS). Once your home is on the list, it gets distributed to all the big traffic sites. This is one of the most important steps for first-time home sellers.

It’s best to have a real estate professional do this for you. Although you can pay to post it on your own, your listing could be flagged as For Sale By Owner (FSBO)—and that can be a turnoff to prospective buyers. Fewer interested buyers mean lower demand, and lower demand means a lower selling price.

You’ll also want to put up a yard sign, spread the news on social media, and have an open house.

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PUT YOUR REALTOR TO WORK

PUT YOUR REALTOR TO WORK

Realtors can’t start advertising your home until you sign a contract allowing them to represent you. Make sure you sign on the dotted line so everything’s legal.

Look at other homes

Now it’s time to start looking for a new home. Tell your realtor what your price range is (your preapproved loan amount) and swipe left until you find a good fit. The average home buyer visits around 10 homes before committing.2

Make sure you find a patient real estate agent. Realtors don’t get paid until you purchase a home—so some agents pressure you to buy because each home visit makes them work more for their commissions.

It’s one reason we recommend Homie. It pays agents a salary instead of a commission, so Homie realtors never get impatient—even if it takes you 50 visits to find your dream home.

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Make an offer

You negotiate a price with the homeowner when you’re ready to buy. It’s not like finding the perfect watermelon at the store with a clear purchase price. You might find the ideal home, but the homeowner has to agree to your offer. And in a real estate market like 2020, many other home buyers will likely make an offer on the same house.

You don’t want to make an offer so high you can’t afford your monthly payment. But you also don’t want to come in so low that the homeowner picks a higher bid from another home buyer. Know in advance how high you’re willing to go, and ask your realtor for advice. They have access to confidential data about home prices and can help you submit a winning bid.

Get money

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SAVE MONEY ON HIGH-SPEED INTERNET

Homie helps you save thousands of dollars on realtor fees. Save even more by finding high-speed internet deals for your new home.

Do your paperwork (and due diligence)

You have to make everything legal once the seller accepts your offer. That means signing a contract filled with complicated terms and conditions—including closing costs. The mortgage company typically charges between 2% to 5% for closing costs, meaning a home buyer can expect to pay around $3,700.3 That’s on top of the real estate agents’ fees for selling your current home.

If you’re selling the home on your own instead of using a realtor, it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer to review the paperwork. A tiny mistake adds up when you have to pay both the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent a 3% commission, plus loan closing costs on your new home.

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A HOMIE LAWYER?

A HOMIE LAWYER?

Homie provides its clients access to a real estate attorney to help with paperwork at no extra charge. See why else we love this real estate company in our Homie review.

This is also when you’ll begin due diligence—a short period in which the home buyer can cancel the contract for any reason. Use this time to have a home inspector do a home inspection (the average cost is about $350).4 You want to make sure what you like about the house is more than lipstick on a pig. You might love that new kitchen, but you need to make sure there isn’t $40,000 worth of black mold hiding beneath the floors.

Move

Don’t forget to budget for moving expenses. It’s fine and dandy to sell your home and find a new one, but moving costs can add up. Your dream home could feel more like a nightmare if you don’t have enough money leftover to move in.

Thankfully, you have Move.org. We’ve put together a list of resources to help you find the cheapest way to move, whether across town or across the country:

Recommended resources

Sources

1. National Association of Realtors, “Quick Real Estate Statistics,” July 17, 2020. Accessed August 18, 2020.

2. Jeanne Sager, Realtor.com, “How Many Homes Will It Take to Find ‘The One’?,” Feb. 13, 2018. Accessed August 25, 2020.

3. Zillow, “What Are Closing Costs and How Much Are They?.” Accessed August 25, 2020.

4. HomeAdvisor, “How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?.” Accessed August 26, 2020.

About Kurt Manwaring

Kurt Manwaring
Kurt Manwaring brings nearly a decade’s worth of research experience as a business consultant to the Move.org team. He specializes in taking complicated issues (like moving) and presenting them in a way that everyone can understand. His writing has been featured in hundreds of publications, including USA Today, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Heavy, Slate, and Yahoo! Lifestyle. He would love to hear about your moving experiences and questions at kurt@move.org.