11 Steps: North Carolina Home Buying Process

October 10th, 2023

Buying | Realtors®
11 Steps: North Carolina Home Buying Process

The North Carolina Home Buying Process

Here are eleven steps of the North Carolina home-buying process! 

Congratulations on taking the first step in understanding the purchasing process – this endeavor is extremely exciting. Although at times stressful and overwhelming, buying a home is one of the most valuable investments you will ever make and will be both fun and exciting as you go along.

There is no "one size fits all" regarding the real estate closing process. Every state's closing requirements vary, so closing on a home in North Carolina will be very different than closing in other states (including South Carolina).  

1. Determine What You're Looking For in a Home

You should be as practical as possible when considering the absolute "must-haves" in your future home. Although having that extra bathroom or a sprawling master suite is great, it might not fit your budget.

There are many different options to consider when purchasing a home, so hopefully, this brief list will be helpful when making those decisions:

Home Logistics 

Do you want a home with multiple acres and plenty of land? Or, are you comfortable with something on less than an acre and close to neighbors? Is a driveway a must-have? Do you prefer a condominium apartment over a house?


How far are you willing to travel to work? Is being close to restaurants and nightlife important, or do you prefer to be in a secluded area? Are there certain school districts you want to live in? Are you comfortable with city traffic noise or want to be in a quiet neighborhood? Do you want to live in an area with families and young children, or do you prefer to live near a younger or older age group? Location is the most important part of buying a home.

Size and Floorplan Layout

How many bedrooms do you need? How many baths? Is a finished basement a must-have? Do you want the whole home to be on one level or multiple levels?

Amenities and Upgrades

If you are looking for a condo, are there certain building amenities you are looking for (such as a pool, gym, etc.)? If you buy a home, do you need a washer/dryer? Do you want a new kitchen? Is hardwood flooring throughout a must-have, or are you comfortable with carpeting?

Beautiful new home with front porch and stone details

2. Get Pre-Approved For a Mortgage

Please note that getting pre-approved is not the same as getting pre-qualified. Pre-approval is a fairly easy process and will tell you exactly how much house you can afford based on your income, expenses, and more. Pre-approval carefully reviews your credit and is far more thorough than pre-qualification, which only estimates how much you can afford. This will set you up for home-buying success

Will getting a mortgage pre-approval affect my credit?

Yes, obtaining mortgage pre-approval will knock your credit down a few points because the lender will run a hard credit check. Bear in mind that this is an extremely important step in the purchasing process and one that will set you apart because it helps sellers know that you are a serious, motivated buyer and have the mortgage backup information to prove it. Additionally, many real estate agents will require that a buyer obtain mortgage pre-approval (unless they are a cash buyer) so that they will know the price range in which they can afford to buy.

3. Hire a Full-Service Real Estate Agent

If you are considering delving into the home purchasing process without a real estate agent, I strongly advise against this. The best part about being a buyer is that working with a real estate agent won't cost you anything. On average, the seller typically pays the real estate commission, totaling 5% or 6% of the home's sale price.

Speak with friends and family and conduct thorough research before contacting a potential real estate agent. Read their online reviews, check the content on their website and social media profiles, and ensure that your values align before taking this important step. You will spend a lot of time with your agent touring homes over the next few months and working through negotiations, so you want to ensure that you hire someone you trust and work well with.

It is perfectly acceptable to interview more than one agent before deciding who to hire. Ask lots of questions during the interviews and take the time after your meeting to reflect, speak with someone close to you, and decide whether or not you want to move forward with that agent. This is an important decision that shouldn't be rushed.

As mentioned previously in this post, buying a home is one of the most important transactions you will ever make. A lot of money is at stake, and you will put yourself at major risk of leaving considerable cash on the closing table if you do not work with a real estate agent. It is also important that you do not hire a discount agent. Most discount agents do not have the tools necessary to expedite the buying process.

On the other hand, a full-service agent will try to make the purchasing process as smooth and seamless as possible and will provide insightful knowledge about neighborhoods, school districts, average home prices in the area you wish to buy, current market conditions, etc. They will also put you in contact with other professionals who are involved in the purchasing process, such as a trustworthy mortgage broker and reliable home inspector, and will prepare all legal documentation and other necessary paperwork.

You will be expected to understand many legal terminologies if you do not work with a real estate agent, and the seller's agent will not have the time to explain the processes to you. Working with a full-service real estate agent will help guide you through the paperwork and ensure you aren't signing anything you are not 100% comfortable with.

real estate agent meeting a potential client looking to buy a home

4. Search For a Home

Your real estate agent will be hard at work researching homes on the market and scheduling showing requests with the seller's agents. You are welcome to assist in this process by looking at homes in your price range online and sending the details to your agent if you find any that you are interested in viewing. Some homes online will be marked as contingent, and you'll likely want to skip over these while keeping an eye on them simultaneously.

Soon, it will be time to view homes in person. I strongly advise being open-minded throughout this process and taking the time to walk through each home carefully. I also recommend keeping a running list on your phone of what you do and don't like in each home you view. Hated the wall-to-wall carpeting but loved the recessed lighting. Be sure to jot that down. You will be touring various homes during this period, and it is easy to get confused, so having a point of reference will be helpful.

5. Find Your Dream Home and Make an Offer

Congratulations on finding the home of your dreams. Before putting in an offer on the home, your real estate agent will conduct thorough research on other homes that have closed in the neighborhood. If the home you wish to purchase is listed for $250,000, but most of the homes in the area that are similar in size recently sold for $220,000, you will probably want to put in an offer closer to $220,000. Alternatively, if most of the homes sold closer to $275,000, you will know you are getting a great deal by offering at the asking price of $250,000.

6. Put in a Purchase Offer and Begin Negotiations

Before putting in an offer, I recommend asking your agent for a sample of the offer to purchase and contract documents to understand the terms and conditions you and the seller must agree upon. Your real estate agent will handle the negotiations and ensure you get the greatest value.

Negotiating a deal can sometimes take several days (or longer) until all parties agree, so I advise exercising tremendous patience during this time. Be polite and courteous to your agent, the seller's agents, and the sellers, and remember that your agent has your best interest at heart. Once you are under contract, here are the next steps.

young couple looking to make an offer on a home

7. Schedule Home Inspection

After accepting the offer, it's time to schedule the home and pest inspections. Unless negotiated otherwise, the cost of these inspections will be your responsibility as the buyer. However, these inspections are crucial to ensuring that there aren't any major defects in your home. It is also very important to schedule the home inspection before scheduling the home appraisal (which differs from the inspection) and obtaining mortgage pre-approval.

A home inspection carefully reviews the home and searches for any defects. An inspector will review the electrical, plumbing, roof, overall structure of the home, and more to ensure that there aren't any problems. If all goes well and there aren't any major issues, you are ready to obtain mortgage approval. However, if the home inspection report comes back and there are more problems with the home than you anticipated, you can back out of the deal.

You must complete the home inspection before the home appraisal and mortgage approval because the money spent on the appraisal and approval process is nonrefundable. If you choose not to buy the home, you will have obtained mortgage approval and paid for an appraisal at a loss.

8. Obtain a Mortgage

If all goes well at the inspection and you don't find any major problems in the home you wish to buy, it is now time to obtain a mortgage. You will meet with a mortgage lender to discuss the available loan options and assess which makes the most sense.

If you have a credit score of at least 620, decent income, and can afford a larger down payment, you will most likely qualify for a conventional mortgage. Home buyers with lower credit, a small down payment, and limited income may qualify for a government loan.

A lender will almost always require a property appraisal when approving a home loan. This process typically involves examining recent home sales in the area (otherwise known as "comparables") and comparing the sale prices to the home you wish to buy.

As mentioned earlier, if you wish to purchase a home listed for $250,000 but similar homes in the neighborhood sold for $220,000, your lender might only be willing to loan you $220,000. If that is the case, you may be responsible for paying the remaining $30,000 out-of-pocket if you don't want to back out of the deal and the seller doesn't want to budge on the price.

home sweet home welcome mat with moving boxes

9. Obtain Title Insurance

Title insurance is a vital component of purchasing a property because it protects both you and your mortgage lender if, for any reason, the seller didn't have rightful ownership of the house when they sold it. For example, you may purchase the home from a single woman who didn't realize her ex-husband still co-owned the property and hadn't signed off on the sale.

Or, maybe the seller had completed plumbing work on the home several years ago but never paid the plumber. As a result of the overdue payment, a lien (debt) was placed against the house. These liens stick to a house and will become the new owner's responsibility if title insurance is not in place.

Although the chances of these circumstances occurring are fairly slim, it is still important that you protect yourself with title insurance. You could lose substantial money (or the house altogether) without title insurance.   

10. Final Walk-Through

If any problems came up during the home inspection that the seller agreed to fix, the final walk-through is your opportunity to ensure that everything was repaired adequately.

Here is a brief list of some items that should be checked during the final walk-through:

  1. Turn on and off all lights

  2. Run water in all sinks and check for leaks

  3. Test all appliances

  4. Check garage door openers

  5. Open and close all doors and windows

  6. Flush all toilets

  7. Inspect ceilings, walls, and floors for any signs of water damage

  8. Run garbage disposal and all exhaust fans

11. Closing on Your Home  

Congratulations on making it to this exciting step. Fewer days are more exciting and anxiously anticipated than closing day. Here are some common questions about closing on your home

What should I expect at the closing?

You (or your mortgage lender) will provide a check for the amount that is owed on the home. The seller will then sign the deed, officially transferring ownership to you as the buyer.

Can I move into my new home directly after the closing?

Your contract will specify the exact date you can move in after closing. In some situations, you will receive the keys at the closing table and will be able to move in immediately. In other situations, the seller may request 30, 45, or 60 days of occupancy after closing on the home.  

Who pays transfer tax in North Carolina?

The seller typically pays the transfer tax. When the ownership is transferred in the state of North Carolina, a tax of $1 per $500 is imposed on the property. So, the seller would pay a transfer tax of $600 on the sale of a $300,000 home.

How much time should I expect to spend at the closing?

A standard closing typically takes about one to two hours if both buyer and seller agree. However, if problems arise during the closing, it can take several hours to complete, depending on the situation.

couple buying a home and shaking the hand of a real estate agent

North Carolina Home Buying Process - Final Thoughts 

The North Carolina home buying process is relatively straight forward. Whether you are a first-time home buyer or an experienced real estate mogul, contact us today to find the home of your dreams. 

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Ryan Fitzgerald

Ryan Fitzgerald

Hi there! Nice to 'meet' you and thanks for visiting our Raleigh Real Estate Blog! My name is Ryan Fitzgerald, and I'm a REALTOR® in Raleigh-Durham, NC, the owner of Raleigh Realty. I work alongside some of the best Realtors in Raleigh. You can find more of my real estate content on Forbes, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and more. Realtor Magazine named me a top 30 under 30 Realtor in the country (it was a long time ago haha). Any way, that's enough about me. I'd love to learn more about you if you'd like to connect with me on Facebook and Instagram or connect with our team at Raleigh Realty. Looking forward to connecting!

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