15 Steps to Purchase a Home in California

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With 39 million individuals who name it residence, California is essentially the most populous state within the U.S. and ranks third in whole space behind Alaska and Texas. With this in thoughts, beginning to home store in California will be overwhelming. With so many individuals and rising residence costs, it may be downright intimidating.

However, it doesn’t need to be! We’re right here to stroll you thru the steps of shopping for a house in California. With the assistance of Daniel Del Actual, a prime agent in Modesto, California who works with 75% extra single-family houses than the common Modesto agent, we’ll provide the data that you must succeed as a California homebuyer.

Make certain you purchase inside your means, [but] if the appropriate property comes alongside and it’s the one that you simply actually need and it’s the neighborhood that you simply want inside your worth level, then you definitely go for it!

1. Assess your monetary scenario and future objectives

We will’t at all times predict what the longer term holds — let’s be trustworthy, we most likely didn’t see ourselves locked down due to a pandemic or foresee the loopy actual property market that adopted.

Median residence sale costs in California elevated by 5.4% from June 2021 to June 2022, in accordance with information from the California Affiliation of Realtors®. Median residence costs in June 2022, nonetheless, are down 4% from Might 2022, an indication of some market cooling. If you’re trying to enter the market after a number of the fiercest competitors California has seen in its actual property market, now simply may be a good time.

To get began on evaluating your monetary scenario, check out your credit score rating and decide the place you land on the dimensions between poor and glorious. Usually, the higher the rating, the better your chances are high of qualifying for an inexpensive mortgage. In the event you discover that your rating might use some enchancment, take into account disputing any errors in your credit score report, paying down a few of your debt, or settling any accounts which might be in collections.

Del Actual says it’s essential to know the explanation you’re shopping for a house — to achieve wanted house, as an funding, with future wants in thoughts — and to “be sure you purchase inside your means,” however “if the appropriate property comes alongside and it’s the one that you simply actually need and it’s the neighborhood that you simply want inside your worth level, then you definitely go for it!”

2. Decide how a lot you possibly can afford

Residing in California isn’t low-cost, however you most likely already know that. Figuring out how a lot you possibly can afford in California isn’t as straightforward as it’s in another states because of particular concerns corresponding to extra owners insurance coverage and Mello-Roos services districts. Nevertheless, there are additionally down cost help and first-time homebuyer packages accessible to California patrons that may assist make homeownership a actuality.

An amazing place to begin is with an affordability calculator, like this one from HomeLight. You possibly can enter particulars corresponding to your revenue, credit score rating, zip code, and down cost quantity to get an estimate of what you would possibly be capable of afford.

3. Analysis particular packages for down cost help

There are organizations in California that supply down cost help and first-time homebuyer packages to assist make the dream of proudly owning a house a actuality. These are sometimes loans within the type of a second mortgage with their very own rates of interest and payback necessities. Some packages accessible to low-to-moderate revenue homebuyers and first-time homebuyers embrace:

  • Golden State Finance Authority (GSFA)
  • CalHFA
    • Forgivable Fairness Builder Mortgage – Offers first-time homebuyers instant fairness of as much as 10% of the acquisition worth of the house within the type of a mortgage. If the homebuyer occupies the house as a main residence repeatedly for 5 years, the mortgage is forgivable.
    • MyHome Help Program – There’s a program for presidency loans and for standard loans that supply deferred-payment junior loans for 3.5% and three% respectively to assist with the down cost and shutting prices.
  • Metropolis-specific choices

Please be aware that these packages are topic to vary and you’ll need to contact these entities straight for extra data and to find out should you would possibly qualify. Not all lenders provide these packages, and in some circumstances, a lender will have to be particularly authorized to supply them.

4. Store for a mortgage and get preapproved

Once you begin your homebuying course of in California, you’ll want to apply for mortgage preapproval to get a good suggestion of how a lot you might be certified to borrow. Not solely is it essential to buy lenders to see completely different phrases and charges, but it surely’s additionally essential to buy various kinds of mortgages to see which one works finest for you and your distinctive scenario. Listed below are some mortgage choices that may be accessible to you:

Standard mortgage

There are two forms of standard loans — conforming and non-conforming. A conforming standard mortgage will meet or exceed the rules set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that are government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that buy standard loans. Tips for a non-conforming mortgage will differ extra broadly relying on the lender.

Typical necessities for a standard mortgage could embrace:

  • Minimal credit score rating of no less than 620
  • Most debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 43%
  • Minimal down cost of 5%, although some packages permit for a 3% down cost
  • Most mortgage quantity of $647,200 in most counties; $970,800 in high-cost counties
  • Usually requires personal mortgage insurance coverage (PMI) if the down cost is lower than 20%

Jumbo loans

A jumbo mortgage is used when the borrowed quantity exceeds the $647,200 or $970,800 restrict relying on the county the house is positioned in. The mortgage limits can change annually and differ by county. These loans are pretty widespread in elements of California because of excessive residence costs.

For instance, the conforming mortgage restrict in Los Angeles, Marin, Orange, San Benito, and San Francisco counties is $970,800. Riverside, Imperial, Fresno, and San Joaquin counties have a mortgage restrict of $647,200.

Mortgage quantities above these limits would require a jumbo mortgage and the necessities to acquire one differ from standard mortgage necessities and should embrace greater credit score scores and decrease debt ratios, some pointers you might encounter are:

  • Minimal credit score rating of 700, however generally above 720
  • Low DTI, ideally 36%
  • A 20% down cost


An FHA mortgage is insured by the Federal Housing Administration and accessible from FHA-approved lenders. An FHA mortgage is exclusive in that debtors are in a position to make use of a down cost help program for the whole down cost. Necessities to qualify for an FHA mortgage could embrace:

  • Minimal credit score rating depending on down cost quantity:
  • 580 = 3.5% down cost
  • 500-579 = 10% down cost
  • An upfront mortgage insurance coverage premium
  • Mortgage insurance coverage premium (MIP) paid month-to-month for the lifetime of the mortgage
  • DTI of 43% or decrease
  • Have to be borrower’s main residence


VA loans can be found to present service members and veterans who meet eligibility necessities. There are two forms of VA loans — a VA direct residence mortgage (unusual) and a VA-backed residence mortgage. VA mortgage necessities embrace:

  • Minimal service necessities
  • No minimal credit score rating (however the lender itself might need a minimal)
  • No down cost required in most circumstances
  • Some must pay a VA funding price


The California Housing Finance Company (CalHFA) has authorized lenders that may qualify first-time homebuyers for a wide range of residence loans. Loans are authorized primarily based on:

  • Credit score, revenue limits, and different mortgage necessities from the CalHFA lender
  • The house should be the borrower’s main residence
  • Completion of homebuyer training counseling

When you’ve accomplished your mortgage utility — which could solely take you so long as it takes to collect all the documentation that’s wanted to confirm revenue, debt, and property — you will be preapproved for a mortgage in as little as one enterprise day.

At this stage, it is best to get preapproved fairly than prequalified. Prequalification solely takes a couple of minutes, and it’s only a ballpark of what you might qualify for. Underwritten preapproval requires the lender to intently evaluate your documentation to see how a lot you could possibly qualify for. Be mindful, even with underwritten preapproval, you could possibly nonetheless be denied a mortgage later within the course of in case your monetary scenario modifications.

5. Analysis the market

Once you’re wanting into the California market and areas to dwell, there are some things to think about: Median residence worth, median days on market, geographic options, colleges,  and potential hazards like earthquake and wildfire danger. Let’s take a more in-depth take a look at the completely different areas California has to supply and their median residence worth and days on market as of June 2022, with information supplied by the California Affiliation of Realtors:

Southern California

Median bought worth of present single-family houses: $830,000

Median days on market: 10

Counties embrace: Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Ventura

Central Coast

Median bought worth of present single-family houses: $980,000

Median days on market: 10

Counties embrace: Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz

Central Valley

Median bought worth of present single-family houses: $497,000

Median days on market: 8

Counties embrace: Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Placer, San Benito, Stanislaus, Kings, Madera, Fresno, Kern, Glenn, Tulare

Bay Space

Median bought worth of present single-family houses: $1,400,000

Median days on market: 12

Counties embrace: Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, San Mateo, Solano, Sonoma, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara

Far North

Median bought worth of present single-family houses: $400,000

Median days on market: 15

Counties embrace: Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama

6. Discover a native agent

Working with an area agent who could be very aware of the market in your goal space is the important thing to a profitable homebuying expertise in California.

Del Actual suggests discovering somebody who will “coach you on a micro stage about particular neighborhoods.” Shopping for a house is a big funding, so having somebody who is ready to be trustworthy and clarify what you could possibly count on sooner or later is essential.

A great actual property agent will stroll you thru the method, explaining what is going on and why. They are going to talk with you in a means that you simply’re snug with — whether or not you want actual discuss or just a little sugar coating — and maintain you within the loop alongside the best way.

It’s essential to do your due diligence when deciding what agent to rent. Right here are some things to search for:

  • Previous transactions – Guarantee that the agent is expert within the worth vary and kind of residence that you simply’re searching for.
  • Critiques – There are a selection of locations to seek out agent critiques and testimonials from previous shoppers. Do your analysis to guarantee that the critiques are largely constructive and the agent looks like somebody you could possibly work intently with.
  • A connection – Don’t underestimate the ability of merely getting alongside along with your agent. Homebuying is an enormous deal and brokers are expert at working via the emotional rollercoaster of discovering a house in addition to the precise logistics.

Discover a Purchaser’s Agent To Assist You Purchase Your California Dream Dwelling

If you’re trying to purchase a house in California, a purchaser’s agent is a essential associate. Discover a prime agent in just some minutes to jump-start your homebuying journey.

7. Begin the home hunt in earnest

Let’s be trustworthy, should you’re searching for a brand new residence, you’ve most likely been scouring on-line residence listings for some time. Nicely, now it’s time to get all the way down to enterprise, slim down your listing, and begin going to open homes and scheduling showings.

Make an inventory of your “have to haves” and “good to haves.” The clearer you might be on what you want, the better the method will probably be. For example, you probably have three children, a one-bedroom residence most likely isn’t going to chop it, however you could possibly compromise on the dimensions of the kitchen or variety of loos.

On this market, though it’s exhibiting indicators of cooling off a bit, you might not get precisely what you need. So it’s essential to know the place you’re prepared to compromise and the place that you must stand agency.

Your agent will provide help to navigate accessible houses and provide help to resolve when or if that you must settle. Del Actual says we’re shifting out of the interval when folks needed to accept a house when stock was low however they had been nonetheless getting an incredible rate of interest. Now, he says, “in a means, you’re deciding on [rates], however you get a collection of houses.”

When selecting a neighborhood or metropolis to purchase a house in, pay attention to any potential hazards within the space like earthquakes, floods, fires, and tsunamis. The MyHazards web site means that you can enter the tackle and consider the chance of hazard related to these occasions. Undergo the vendor’s disclosure with a fine-toothed comb to be sure you’re conscious of something that may be unsuitable with the property.

8. Make a powerful provide

When you’ve discovered the appropriate California residence, the following step is to make a proposal. Relying on the place you might be in California, a house might be in the marketplace for as little as eight days, so that you would possibly have to take motion rapidly.

There are some things you are able to do to make your provide extra interesting to a vendor — and it’s not all about worth. Certain, providing above asking is one technique, however your agent can information you thru what makes essentially the most sense relying in the marketplace.

In a vendor’s market, including fewer contingencies, elevating your earnest cash, and shopping for in money to keep away from a financing contingency could make your provide stronger. In a purchaser’s market, the place there’s much less demand and extra provide, there’s extra room to incorporate contingencies and hedge your provide just a little decrease.

Del Actual notes that he sees extra sellers in California accepting VA or CalHFA loans than he has in the previous couple of years. Because the market slows down, he says that sellers are extra prepared to contemplate patrons with these kinds of financing.

In the event you’re trying to negotiate on the acquisition worth, Del Actual suggests having the vendor give credit that can will let you pay for mortgage low cost factors, successfully decreasing your rate of interest and saving you cash over the lifetime of the mortgage. Del Actual suggests discovering a vendor “that’s prepared to present you a 2% credit score to purchase down your charge.” This permits the client to make the next provide whereas probably paying much less over the lifetime of the mortgage.

Use HomeLight’s Money Supply to Win Your Dream Dwelling

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9. Ship your earnest cash deposit

The earnest cash deposit is often between 1% and three% of the acquisition worth and basically reveals the vendor that you simply’re critical about shopping for their residence. In a aggressive market, the next earnest cash provide will be extra enticing to sellers and provides your provide an edge. In the event you stroll away from the house buy for causes aside from these laid out in your contract, the earnest cash might go to the vendor, however in sure circumstances, you may get it again if contingencies weren’t met.

10. Order inspections and get an appraisal

Whereas there isn’t any legislation stating you need to have an inspection earlier than buying a property, having a house inspection accomplished is at all times a good suggestion along with the appraisal your lender will order.

Throughout the residence inspection, a licensed inspector will verify for seen injury or points all through the house. They are going to look at the construction, plumbing, HVAC system, and extra. They gained’t, nonetheless, be listening to the décor, paint shade, or different aesthetics.

Relying on the place the house is positioned and the precise space the house is in, you might have to order a specialised residence inspection for termites or different pests, sewer, chimney (particularly if the usual inspection flagged the chimney as having a difficulty), and radon.

Your mortgage lender will order an appraisal to find out the worth of the house and see in case your buy worth strains up with the appraised worth of the house.

11. Store for owners and specialty hazard insurance coverage

Householders insurance coverage in California averages round $1,200 yearly — however that doesn’t embrace specialty hazard insurance coverage.

Whereas commonplace owners insurance coverage would possibly cowl damages that end result from wildfires, if you’re in a high-risk space, it could be troublesome to acquire an insurance coverage coverage. If in case you have bother getting a typical insurance coverage coverage, the California FAIR Plan will present fundamental fireplace protection, and the Distinction in Circumstances (DIC) insurance policies complement the FAIR Plan coverage to supply comparable protection as conventional owners insurance policies. The easiest way to find out the price of a coverage is to enter the house’s tackle within the FAIR Plan Dwelling Premium Calculator after which work with a dealer to get a quote for protection.

For earthquake protection, you possibly can worth out insurance policies with the California Earthquake Authority to discover a value estimate after which discuss with your house insurance coverage firm. The typical value of earthquake insurance coverage varies by metropolis with Alameda costing $6.47 per thousand {dollars} of protection which equals a yearly premium of $3,233 on a $500,000 residence, and Truthful Oaks costing $2.46 per thousand {dollars} of protection which equals a yearly premium of $1,230.

12. Negotiate repairs

If the inspection turns up points with the house, you might need to return to the vendor to barter repairs or credit for the repairs earlier than you shut on the house. In California’s aggressive market, it’s not unusual for sellers to disclaim restore requests. However because the market cools, even barely, sellers might be extra prepared to barter.

13. Order a title search

A title firm will concern a preliminary title report that will probably be reviewed by all events, together with your lender, and can embrace gadgets corresponding to property tax data, easements, CC&Rs, deeds, deed restrictions, liens, and any judgments in opposition to the title of the house. All of that is executed to make sure the vendor has a authorized proper to really promote the property and there’s what is called marketable title.

Earlier than they’ll promote, the vendor must care for any liens, encumbrances, or judgments in opposition to the property so you possibly can legally take possession as soon as the sale is finalized.

14. Remaining walkthrough

That is your likelihood to finish a last inspection of the property. The ultimate walkthrough is when you possibly can confirm that each one agreed-upon repairs are full and that the house is in passable situation earlier than you signal the closing papers and take possession of your new residence.

15. Shut in your new residence

At an agreed-upon date and time, you’ll sit down with a notary and signal your entire last mortgage paperwork and shutting paperwork from escrow. You’ll wire (or present a cashiers verify for) your down cost and shutting prices to escrow, funds will probably be despatched to escrow out of your lender, funds will probably be disbursed, and the deed and be aware will probably be recorded with the county. After which, lastly, you’ll get the keys to your new residence!

Know the market and work with an agent

The easiest way to purchase a home in California is to coach your self concerning the market. Dwelling costs in California are excessive, however shopping for a house, in accordance with Del Actual, “permits you to safe your way of life, have the satisfaction of possession, construct recollections along with your children, and management the college district your children go to and the neighborhood that you simply need to dwell in.”

Working with a California agent who will provide help to navigate the market can be key to a profitable homebuying expertise. Utilizing our Agent Matching Software, you’ll be matched with three prime brokers in your space, so you possibly can resolve who you’ll work finest with in your California residence shopping for journey.

Header Picture Supply: (Viviana Rishe / Unsplash)