How to Buy a House: 15 Steps in the Homebuying Process

The steps to buying a home include getting your finances ready and finding the right mortgage lender, but there's fun stuff, too.
Kate Wood
By Kate Wood 
Updated
Edited by Johanna Arnone Reviewed by Michael Soon Lee

Some or all of the mortgage lenders featured on our site are advertising partners of NerdWallet, but this does not influence our evaluations, lender star ratings or the order in which lenders are listed on the page. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners.

We’ve broken down the homebuying process into 15 main steps: Call it a buying-a-house checklist. Each step includes choices to make and things to do. Some are stressful, some are pretty cool and some are, well, kinda annoying. But each gets you one step closer to your goal of homeownership.

1. Make sure you're ready

Sure, there's being financially ready to buy a house (see Step 2 for that). But are you emotionally ready? Even if it's just going to be your starter home, you're making a big financial commitment and putting down some roots.

You'll want to think about your other goals for the next few years. Are you buying with a partner, and, if yes, are you on the same page when it comes to money? Is there any chance you'd need to relocate for work? Are you thinking of starting a family? These big-picture questions can add to the pros (or cons) of whether this is the right time to buy a house.

2. Get your finances in order

Buying a house may be the biggest financial decision you'll ever make, so before you take the plunge, you want to be sure your finances are solid.

Using a home affordability calculator can help you determine your budget by taking into account your income, debts, location and down payment amount (more on down payments in a moment). You'll be able to see how your monthly mortgage payments might add up and how your finances could look as a homeowner.

This can be important for keeping your ambitions down to earth. You might be able to qualify for a sizable mortgage, but that doesn't mean you actually want to commit that much of your budget to housing.

Check your credit score, too. A higher credit score is the single most powerful way to earn a lower mortgage interest rate. Know the mortgage options for your credit score. If your credit score could use some work, it may be worthwhile to hold off on homeownership and see what you can do to build up your score.

3. Make a plan for the down payment

When you've determined what you can afford, you can figure out how much you want to save for a down payment. You don’t need to put down 20% to buy a house; many homeowners opt to put down less. A smaller down payment requires less money upfront, but it means you'll have to pay mortgage insurance, which typically increases your monthly payment. The type of home loan you use also helps to determine the minimum down payment required.

If this is your first home or if you haven't owned a house in a while, you may also want to look into state first-time home buyer programs. Many offer financial help, including down payment assistance. And if you have a friend or family member who can afford it, you may also use gift money to increase your down payment. Rules about gift money vary by loan program.

🤓Nerdy Tip

You'll want to set aside money for more than just the down payment. Closing costs generally run from 2% to 5% of the total cost of the loan. It's also a good idea to have some emergency funds in case the home needs unexpected repairs.

» MORE: Use our mortgage calculator to estimate your payments

Mortgage loans from our partners

Rocket Mortgage - PURCHASE logo
Check Rate

on Rocket Mortgage

Rocket Mortgage

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Rocket Mortgage - PURCHASE logo

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Min. credit score 
580

Min. down payment 
3.5%

Check Rate

on Rocket Mortgage

Better - PURCHASE logo
Check Rate

on Better

Better

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Better - PURCHASE logo

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Min. credit score 
620

Min. down payment 
3%

Check Rate

on Better

NBKC - PURCHASE logo
Check Rate

on NBKC

NBKC

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
NBKC - PURCHASE logo

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Min. credit score 
620

Min. down payment 
3%

Check Rate

on NBKC

New American Funding - PURCHASE logo
Check Rate

on New American Funding

New American Funding

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
New American Funding - PURCHASE logo

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Min. credit score 
500

Min. down payment 
3.5%

Check Rate

on New American Funding

Veterans United - PURCHASE logo
Check Rate

on Veterans United

Veterans United

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Veterans United - PURCHASE logo

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Min. credit score 
620

Min. down payment 
0%

Check Rate

on Veterans United

Mortgage loans from our partners

Rocket Mortgage - PURCHASE logo
Check Rate

on Rocket Mortgage

Rocket Mortgage

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Rocket Mortgage - PURCHASE logo

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Min. credit score 
580

Min. down payment 
3.5%

Check Rate

on Rocket Mortgage

Better - PURCHASE logo
Check Rate

on Better

Better

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Better - PURCHASE logo

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Min. credit score 
620

Min. down payment 
3%

Check Rate

on Better

NBKC - PURCHASE logo
Check Rate

on NBKC

NBKC