How to Buy a House in WA

8 Steps to buy a home in Washington

12/8/20238 min read

gray steel 3-door refrigerator near modular kitchen
gray steel 3-door refrigerator near modular kitchen

Whether you're just starting to search houses for sale or are already pre-approved and ready to buy a house, it's never too early to find a real estate agent in Washington. An experienced real estate agent can help you navigate a rapidly changing housing market, explore your financial options, and negotiate the best deal possible. Best of all, hiring a real estate agent comes at no extra cost to you, since the seller typically pays a buyer's agent commission.

8 Steps to Buying a House in Washington

Step 1: Save for a down payment & connect with a Lender

Your down payment, paid at closing, is the first payment you will make toward your home purchase. Your mortgage lender will pay the remaining balance. Generally, a down payment of 20% of the home's price is ideal to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI). However, many lenders offer lower down payment requirements in the range of 3-5%. Government backed loans, like VA don't require a down payment and FHA loans, only require 3.5% of your home's purchase price at closing. Even conventional loans allow for down payments as low as 3 to 5% but this varies by lender. It is highly recommended to connect with a knowledgeable lender when you start saving for a down payment to buy a home in Washington. You might even be surprised with how little money you need to put down!

Step 2: Find a Real Estate agent in Washington

Even if you are just beginning to think about buying a house in Washington, it's a great idea to find a Real Estate agent, who can help introduce you to the home buying process and connect you to reputable lenders. When it's time to start looking at homes for sale, your real estate agent will be right there by your side. Besides finding and touring properties, your agent will help you make offers, negotiate price, and navigate the closing process. They can even recommend other service providers like inspectors and contractors to help when you buy a home in Washington. If you are searching to find a house for sale in Washington, connect with a Real Estate agent who has the resources and local market knowledge to help you find a home that meets your needs.

Step 3: Get pre-approved for a mortgage

A mortgage pre-approval letter is a document from a lender that certifies a borrower has been guaranteed approval for a loan up to a certain amount. It shows sellers that you are a serious buyer who is financially qualified to make an offer on a home. In most cases, sellers require that potential buyers attach a pre-approval letter to supplement the offer. Not only does getting a pre-approval show your agent that you are serious about buying a home, but it also shows you how much you can afford and helps to prevent wasted time seeing properties that won't work out. The last thing you want is to fall in love with a house you can't afford.

Step 4: Choose the right location

Most people decide to buy a property based on how much they like the house, but in most cases, you are also buying land along with the home. The house currently standing on that land can be remodeled or renovated, but you can't change where the property is located. You are investing in a particular location, and a real estate investment can be viewed as "good" or "bad" depending on a home's location. In other words, location is often the most important factor when determining the value of a property.

Currently, the average home price in Washington is $763,826, but don't worry if that doesn't match your budget. Home prices vary dramatically from city to city, and you will find lower prices in outlying communities of western Washington!

Step 5: Start house hunting in Washington

Searching for houses in Washington is the fun part of the home buying process! You'll get to look at different types of homes and narrow down what you really want and need in a house. Make a list of everything you want in a home and prioritize the most important. This will help you separate your "must-haves" from your "would-be-nice-to-haves." Your agent can help you understand if your wants are in line with your budget for homes in your favorite neighborhoods, or if you need to rethink what you're looking for.

Step 6: Make an offer

Once you find the right house, it's time to create an offer that will win the home. Your real estate agent will communicate with the seller's agent and use expert skills to help write an offer that gives you the best chance of getting the house on the best terms possible. Currently, in Washington, houses stay on the market for 32 days before going under contract. However, every market goes through seasonal changes and during busier months, homes get sold much quicker. If you are searching to buy a house in Washington between June - July, you should be prepared to move quickly and potentially make offers on several houses before yours is accepted. On the other hand, if you want to buy a house in December - January, you have a bit more time to search. Houses typically stay on the market longer during the winter months.

Average time homes spend on the market in Washington

  • Nov 2022 - 34 days

  • Dec 2022 - 41 days

  • Jan 2023 - 50 days

  • Feb 2023 - 50 days

  • March 2023 - 43 days

  • April 2023 - 32 days

  • May 2023 - 28 days

  • June 2023 - 23 days

  • July 2023 - 24 days

  • Aug 2023 - 27 days

  • Sept 2023 - 29 days

  • Oct 2023 - 32 days

Based on Northwest MLS Statistics for Average Days on Market between November 2022 to October 2023 in Washington State.

How long will it take the seller to respond to my offer?

Written offers should stipulate the timeframe for the seller to respond before the offer expires. Giving a seller 24 hours is typically sufficient. More time could allow the seller a chance to receive more offers, possibly leading to a bidding war. It is usually not recommended to exceed this timeframe when making an offer to buy a home in Washington.

What if my offer in rejected?

Sellers may accept, counter or flat- out reject an initial offer. As the saying goes... "a deal isn’t dead until it’s dead". So, if a counteroffer is given by the seller, you’re still in the game. You and your agent just need to review it to determine whether the counteroffer is acceptable. If you are good with the terms in the counteroffer, then approving it closes the deal immediately. Keep in mind, offers and counteroffers can go back-and-forth many times; this is not unusual, and negotiations are part of a normal deal making process. Each revision of the counteroffer should bring both parties closer together on the terms of the deal.

What is earnest Money?

When you make an offer on a house, your agent will ask for an earnest money deposit to accompany it. The earnest money deposit is typically 1% to 2% of the purchase price in the form of a check or wire. Earnest money is meant to demonstrate to the seller that the buyer’s offer is genuine. Earnest money essentially takes the home off the market to anyone else and reserves it for you. The earnest money is deposited in a trust or escrow account for safekeeping until either the sale is closed or occasionally released when the deal fails to close. If a deal moves forward to closing, the earnest money is applied to the down payment and closing costs. If the deal falls through at no fault of the buyer, the money is returned.

Important: If both parties agree to the terms of the purchase agreement, but then the buyer backs out, the earnest money may not be returned to the buyer. However, there are several ways to protect your earnest money deposit when making an offer to buy a house in Washington, such as offer contingencies.

Step 7: Home Inspections and appraisals

Inspections and appraisals are your opportunity to evaluate the home's condition and value before officially buying a home. These are standard contingencies in a purchase & sale agreement when buying a home in Washington. You typically will have an opportunity after this step to renegotiate the terms of your contract with the seller if any big issues arise during the inspection or if the appraisal comes in low. Appraisals are a lender's way of determining the value of a property. If you're getting a mortgage to buy your new home, your lender will order the appraisal to make sure the home is worth at least the amount being loaned.

For almost every home inspection there is usually some kind of problem noted in the inspection report. Most of the time these issues are minor and fairly simple to fix. Home buyers typically choose to fix these items on their own and can even ask for a price reduction or help with closing costs to offset the necessary repairs. A seller may insist that they have a certain contractor do the work prior to the sale, but this can be risky as it could potentially delay the sale or cause work not being done to a buyer's satisfaction.

Unfortunately, some problems can be deal breakers that you will want to run away from. If you are buying a home, these are some of the potential problems you'll want to be on the lookout for:

  1. Pests and Bugs

  2. Wrong Wiring

  3. Problems with the roof or siding

  4. Foundation problems

  5. Lead paint

  6. Bad pipes

  7. Faulty Well

  8. Radon

  9. Flood areas

  10. Mold

  11. Problems with the Septic system

Do I need a home inspection to buy a house in Washington?

A home inspection is always recommended! Home inspections are required if you plan to finance your home using an FHA or VA loan. For other conventional loan programs, inspections are not required. However, home inspections are highly recommended because they can reveal defects in the home that are not easily detected. Home inspections bring peace of mind in addition to a seller's written disclosure of the property.

Do I need to do a final walk through to buy a house in Washington?

It’s not required, but it’s a very good idea! Final walk-throughs give a buyer one final chance to make sure nothing has changed since their first visit. If repairs were requested, as part of the offer, a follow-up visit ensures that everything was properly addressed, as expected, per the terms of the contract.

Step 8: Close on your new house!

On closing day, you'll meet at your title company to finish signing the paperwork. Once you're finished with your paperwork, your closing costs will be paid to the title company. The title company will then distribute the payments to the correct recipients on your behalf.

As a homebuyer, your closing costs can be divided into four main categories:

  • Lender fees: Fees charged by your lender to cover some of the expenses of your loan. They may include appraisal fees, survey fees, and other expenses related to your loan. These fees vary from lender to lender but can be about 1 - 2% of the home loan.

  • Title and escrow charges: Fees the title company charges for providing title insurance, conducting the title search, and facilitating the closing.

  • Prepaid costs: Ongoing homeownership costs, such as property taxes and homeowners' insurance. Mortgage lenders often require new homeowners to pay for these expenses up front and are prorated at the time of purchase.

  • Other closing costs: Miscellaneous expenses that vary based on your property or unique situation. These can be natural disaster certification fees, pest inspection fees, or real estate attorney fees to name a few common expenses for buyers.

Buyers in Washington typically pay 3–5% of the purchase price in total closing costs.