The Condo Purchase Timeline: How Long Will It Take?

Pages of CalendarYou’ve decided to get into the market. And now you want to know how long until you’ve found and moved into your dream condo­­: a month, a year? While the time required for each step can vary significantly, we thought we’d break down the process and provide rough estimates for what you should expect.

Getting Pre-Approved for a Mortgage: Many realtors won’t talk to potential clients until they’re pre-approved, so you’ll need to do this first. Find a reputable lender to work with and gather together your W-2s for the past two years, your income tax returns for the last two years, and copies of your paystubs and all bank statements for the past three months. The turnaround time for getting pre-approved can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Finding a Realtor: Remember that not just any realtor will do. You want someone with whom you have a good rapport, who knows the industry, and who has experience with condos and co-ops in your particular price range. The best way to find a realtor is by word-of-mouth, someone a friend or co-worker used successfully – so ask around. Another good way is to take a weekend or two and visit several open houses. You’ll probably encounter two or three realtors whose style you liked. Meet with them one-on-one to discuss your specific needs and pick the one you feel most comfortable working with. The process may take a little while — give it anywhere from a few days to two weeks.

Finding your Condo: While some people fall in love with the first place they see, this is often unwise, since you’ll want to really know the market before you buy. The best way to do that is by looking at a lot of places. The speed with which you find a place depends on several factors: market availability, how often you go out and look, and dumb luck. Realistically, you could find your condo in a week, or it could take several months. For people who are incredibly patient (or incredibly demanding) this time frame can stretch quite a bit longer.

Getting an Offer Accepted: After you find your condo, you need to put in an offer and have it accepted. Usually the process goes quickly, particularly in tight markets. You’ll want to strategize with your realtor, come up with a realistic offer, and then wait to hear back. Usually there will be some back and forth with the seller, especially if there are other interested parties. Plan on the process taking anywhere from one to four days. And if you get outbid, it’s back to the hunt.

Prepping for the Closing: Once your offer is accepted, there are still several steps before you actually seal the deal. Generally speaking, banks take 30 to 60 days to have an appraisal done and to go through their mortgage approval process (even if you’re pre-approved), so you can’t move any more quickly than that. In the meantime, you’ll do an inspection of the unit and you’ll negotiate credits and the minor details that go into the final contract of sale. Expect to hire a lawyer for this process. Also, scheduling can be difficult—since so many people need to be present for the closing, it often ends up getting pushed back to accommodate everyone. Expect at least 30 days, and up to two months before you actually sit down at the closing. (Note: If you’re paying cash and are in a rush, it’s possible to close faster.)   

The Closing: While the closing itself can be intimidating because there will be so many papers to sign and so many people present, it only takes an afternoon. Plan on around three hours. 

Moving In: This depends on you. If you can help it, paint and do any work to the unit prior to moving in. That said, this is not always possible and can be expensive. If you want to move immediately, don’t schedule movers for directly after the closing—if the closing gets delayed or something goes wrong (both of which can happen), you’ll be in trouble. Realistically, you could move in couple of days after closing, or you could wait up to a month. It’s up to you.

Total Timeline: On the short end, it’s theoretically possible to go from not even looking to fully moved-in within 45 days, if you are paying all cash. That said, this is not the norm. On the long side, it could take you eight months, but that’s if every step takes as long as possible—which, again, is unlikely. If you’re new to the market, it’s reasonable to expect to be moved-in between three and six months from when you start looking. Good luck!

Co-Op Extra:
If you are buying a co-op, you need to add another step between getting your offer accepted and prepping for the closing: the dreaded board-approval process.  Depending how often the board meets, it can take a month or a couple of months, especially during the summer when board members may be on vacation.  If you don’t hear back anything for a couple of months, it may be a sign that the board does not want to approve you, but does not want to formally reject you either. (The reason could be that they consider the price too low, which would depress the value of the other apartments in the building.) Since they can reject anyone for any reason, as long as it’s not because of illegal discrimination, you’ll have very little recourse in that case, and should just move on.  

Author My First Apartment
Alex Starace

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Alex Starace and his wife own a condo in Chicago. Alex enjoys basketball, biking and jazz. His writing also appears regularly in My First Apartment, South Florida Opulence and TriQuarterly.

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