Buying a house in Pennsylvania is an exciting milestone, but the process can take some time. Several factors, like your financial situation, market conditions, and the local economy can affect both how long it takes you to find a home and how much it costs you.
For example, homes in Allentown are hitting the market at $319,900 and selling within 51 days — 24 days faster than the state average! — so you'll need to move quickly if you want to beat out the competition.
However, homes typically stay on the market longer in New Castle, so you'll be able to take your time and potentially find a better deal.
The more you know about the steps to buying a house and Pennsylvania's current real estate trends, the more prepared you'll be to navigate this complicated process as quickly and smoothly as possible.
No matter where you are in your home buying journey, Clever's concierge team can connect you with local real estate pros who will help you purchase your Pennsylvania dream home!
The best part? When you buy with a Clever real estate agent, you could earn a cash-back refund worth up to 0.5% of the home price. On a qualifying $300,000 purchase, you'd get $1,500. That's real money back in your pocket!
Step 1: Save for a down payment
Your down payment is the initial portion of your home's purchase price that you pay at closing. Your mortgage lender will pay the remaining balance.
Typically, mortgage lenders in Pennsylvania want you to contribute 20% of the purchase price as a down payment. That would be $50,803 for a $254,015 home — the typical home value in Pennsylvania.
However, you have options to lower your down payment amount.
Government backed loans, like VA and FHA loans, allow you to contribute 0% and 3.5% of your home's purchase price respectively. Even conventional loans allow for down payments as low as 3-5% (though the minimum varies by lender).
Minimum Down Payment (%)
Down Payment ($)
Based on typical home values from Zillow (February 2022)
But making a down payment of less than 20% comes with some risks.
First, because you're borrowing more money, you'll have a higher monthly payment and pay more in interest over the life of your loan.
Based on a $254,015 home, the typical home value in Pennsylvania (Zillow, February 2022) with a 3.09% interest rate for a 30-year loan.
Second, you may have to purchase mortgage insurance.
Conventional loans require private mortgage insurance (PMI) until your loan balance reaches 80% of the purchase price. FHA loans, on the other hand, require a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) for the life of your loans.
Mortgage insurance costs around 1% of your mortgage balance annually. However, rates vary based on your down payment and credit score. Typically, your mortgage insurance payment is added to your mortgage payment each month.
VA loans don't charge mortgage insurance. Instead, you'll pay a VA loan funding fee at closing, which can range from 1.4% to 3.6% of the purchase price.
Pennsylvania down payment assistance programs
Are you struggling to save enough to afford a down payment?
There are numerous down payment assistance (DPA) programs available to first-time and low-income homebuyers in the state of Pennsylvania. If you're eligible, you could receive a grant or a second mortgage that can cover your down payment or closing costs.
Check out these resources and find out which programs you qualify for:
PHFA Keystone Advantage Assistance Loan Program
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) offers up to 4% of the purchase price or up to $6,000 to eligible borrowers through the Keystone Advantage Assistance Loan Program. The financial aid comes as a 10-year, 0% interest second mortgage.
To qualify for this option, the buyer must have a credit score of 660 or above, and their liquid assets cannot exceed $50,000.
PHFA K-FIT Program
The Keystone Forgivable in Ten Years (K-FIT) program offers participants a 10-year second mortgage of up to 5% of the purchase price. The loan is forgiven at a rate of 10% per year.
Eligible borrowers must have a credit score of at least 660, and their liquid assets may not exceed $50,000.
PHFA HOMEstead Program
PHFA's HOMEstead Program can provide homebuyers with up to $10,000 as a 0% interest second mortgage loan. The loan is forgiven by 20% every year for five years as long as the buyer doesn't sell, transfer, or refinance the home.
Household income and purchase limits vary depending on the county the property is located in.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Alternative DPA programs in Pennsylvania can be found on the state's HUD page here.
Step 2: Get pre-approved for a mortgage
A mortgage pre-approval letter is an offer to lend you up to a certain amount of money to purchase a home. It shows sellers that you are a serious buyer who is financially qualified to make an offer on a home.
Most sellers in Pennsylvania will require pre-approval before showing you their home.
You don't have to decide on one lender right now. In fact, you should compare interest rates and pre-approval amounts from several lenders to make sure you're getting the absolute best terms when you buy your Pennsylvania home.
Get Pre-approved Today!
Get matched with a lender who can tell you how much house you can afford. To get started, where do you plan on buying?
To get a pre-approved for a mortgage, you'll fill out a mortgage application and provide details about your financial situation. They'll look at the following information to determine your mortgage pre-approval amount:
Lenders need to know that you earn enough to make your mortgage payments each month. Most lenders want your monthly housing costs to be less than 28% of your monthly income.
Lenders also consider your other debts, including credit cards, student loans, auto loans, and personal loans. They use this information to calculate your debt to income ratio (DTI) — or your total debt (including future mortgage) divided by your total income.
While some lenders will approve mortgages for buyers with DTI as high as 43%, it's best to keep your DTI under 36%.
Because of this, you might consider paying off some of your other debts before applying for a mortgage in Pennsylvania.
Mortgage lenders in Pennsylvania want to see that you have enough cash in the bank to cover your down payment and closing costs without completely draining your cash reserves.
While this requirement varies by lender, most want you to keep at least enough to cover two mortgage payments including insurance and taxes.
Step 3: Choose the right location
A house's neighborhood can be just as important as its layout and features. In general, you should consider the following factors when deciding which neighborhood is best for you:
What's your home buying budget?
Once you know your budget (a pre-approval letter will tell you the most you can expect to borrow), you can narrow your search to neighborhoods where homes are selling within your price range.
Also, look at past home value trends. This will give you an idea of how much your home's value could go up over the next few years. You want to choose a neighborhood that's in your budget, but could also lead to a big return when you decide to sell.
To give you an idea of how appreciation could impact what your house is worth in the future, consider these examples from three neighborhoods in Philadelphia:
Home value appreciation in Philadelphia
Once you have a list of neighborhoods with homes in your budget, you should evaluate how well each one meets your personal needs and preferences. To finalize your list of target areas, consider factors like:
- School districts
- Your daily commute
- Crime rates
- Restaurants and amenities
- Transportation options
Step 4: Find a great real estate agent in Pennsylvania
Your real estate agent will be your main ally during the home buying process. Besides finding and showing you properties, your agent should be an expert on buying a home in Pennsylvania.
They'll help you make offers, negotiate contracts, and navigate the closing process. Plus, they can recommend other service providers like title companies and inspectors to help you buy your home in Pennsylvania.
Don't rush into choosing an agent. Instead, take the time to research and interview multiple real estate agents who have experience in the neighborhoods you're interested in. you should pay attention to a realtor's:
- Years of experience
- Number of transactions in the last year (the more the better!)
- Experience in your price range
- Overall review score
- Individual reviews and complaints
Ask each of them questions about your target neighborhoods, how they prefer to communicate, and their strategy for helping you find and close on your new home. You should feel comfortable with the agent's knowledge, experience, and process before committing to an agent.
Top Local Agents Hand-Picked for You!
Clever matches you with multiple agents in your area so you can interview, compare, and choose the best one to help you buy your next home.
Step 5: Start house hunting in Pennsylvania
Searching for homes in Pennsylvania is the fun part of the home buying process! You'll get to look at a variety of homes and discover what you really want in a home.
Prioritize your needs vs. wants when buying a home in Pennsylvania
Make a list of everything you want in a home and prioritize them. At the top of the list should be the items that are most important to you. This will help you separate your "must-haves" from your "nice-to-haves."
Your agent can help you understand if your wants are realistic for your budget and favorite neighborhoods or if you need to rethink what you're looking for.
Look at current housing inventory
The timing of your house hunt in Pennsylvania can have a big impact on your number of options. For example, in Pennsylvania, June has historically seen the most homes for sale. Searching in this season could give you more options and a greater likelihood of finding your dream home.
On the other hand, January gives you the fewest choices in Pennsylvania. Historically, there are 43.2%) fewer homes for sale than during Pennsylvania's peak season.
Housing inventory in Pennsylvania by season
New Listings per Month
Based on January 2022 data from Realtor.com
Step 6: Make an offer
Once you find a Pennsylvania house you love, it's time to make an offer. Your real estate agent will help you write a compelling offer that gives you the best shot of convincing the homeowner to sell to you.
Currently, in Pennsylvania, homes stay on the market for 75 days before going under contract. However, every market goes through seasonal changes. During busier months, homes get snatched up more quickly than others.
Historically, Pennsylvania homes sell fastest in July, where the average property is only on the market for 59. If your home search falls around this time, you should be prepared to move quickly and potentially make offers on several homes before yours is accepted.
On the other hand, if you buy in February, you have a bit more time to search. Homes typically stay on the market 24 days longer than Pennsylvania's annual average.
Average time homes spend on market in Pennsylvania
Based on January 2022 data from Realtor.com
What should your offer include?
Your real estate agent can help you decide which of these common options you should include in your offer:
- Seller concessions: You'll have to pay for most of your closing costs out of pocket when you buy a home, but you may be able to ask the seller to cover some of those costs for you. This option may allow you to offer a higher purchase price and essentially include your closing costs in your mortgage.
- Repair credits: If the home is in need of repair, you could ask for credits instead of having the seller make and pay for the repairs. The seller avoids the hassle of waiting for contractors to complete the job, and you get to oversee the repairs in the future to make sure they meet your expectations.
- Inspection contingencies: Most purchase agreements have inspection contingencies that allow you to change your offer (or back out all together) if the inspection turns up major problems. If you have a high degree of certainty about the house's condition (like if the seller can show you a recent inspection report), you can forgo this contingency to give the seller a higher sense of confidence.
- Letter to the seller: Many sellers have a personal attachment to the home. They've lived there for years and want to know the next owner will take care of the property. Writing a letter to the seller can show them how you picture your life in the house and appeal to their sentimental side.
Step 7: Inspections and appraisals
Inspections and appraisals are an opportunity for you to better evaluate the home's condition and value before officially purchasing it. You may have an opportunity after this step to renegotiate the terms of your contract with the seller if something unexpected pops up.
Home inspections in Pennsylvania
Having your Pennsylvania home inspected by a licensed inspector gives you peace of mind about the condition of the property before you commit thousands of dollars to purchase it.
Your inspector should check out the following parts of the property:
- Electrical system
- HVAC system
If the home has a septic system, you should also pay for a septic inspection to make sure it doesn't have any problems that wouldn't be covered in a typical home inspection.
Disclosure laws in Pennsylvania aren't as strict as other states, so it’s best for homebuyers to conduct additional tests to supplement the general home inspection.
To ensure that a property is safe, it's highly recommended to have these tests done before closing:
Radon testing: Pennsylvania is prone to high levels of radon, which can cause long-lasting health problems. If the seller hasn't done a radon test within the past year, think about ordering a free radon test kit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection here.
Termite inspection: Termites and other pests can invade a home and cause structural damage long before a seller notices their presence. Although not all lenders require borrowers to complete a pest inspection, all buyers should consider this test to prevent and treat any infestations as soon as possible.
Appraisals determine the value of the property. If you're using a mortgage to buy your new home, your lender will order an appraisal to make sure the home is worth the money that it's loaning you.
Step 8: Close on your new home!
Once you finish your inspections and your lender approves your financing, you'll be ready for closing! Closing is the process of finalizing your mortgage and transferring ownership of the property.
On closing day, you'll meet at the title company to complete the purchase of your Pennsylvania home. Prepare to spend a few hours going through the necessary paperwork and settling your closing costs.
You'll be asked to review and sign several important legal documents to finalize the title transfer, including:
- Your final loan application
- The deed
- The mortgage promissory note
- The disclosure statements
Take your time to make sure all the information is correct. If any of the documentation is filled out improperly, it could cause issues with the transfer or your loan. Consult with your escrow agent if you have any questions or concerns.
Once you’ve finished the paperwork, you'll have to pay your closing costs. You can pay the total sum to your title company, and then they'll take care of distributing the funds to the right recipients.
Homebuyers can generally sort their closing costs into the four following categories:
- Lender fees: Fees paid to your lender for originating and underwriting your loan. Lender fees may also cover additional costs related to your mortgage, such as appraisal and survey fees.
- Title and escrow charges: Fees paid to the title company for facilitating the closing process and conducting the title searches. Buyers and sellers often split this cost.
- Prepaid costs: Recurring costs of homeownership that are paid in advance. Lenders frequently require new homeowners to pay some fees up front, such as property taxes and homeowners insurance.
- Other closing costs: Miscellaneous expenses that differ for every buyer. Common costs may include natural disaster certification fees, pest inspection fees, or real estate attorney fees.
Buyers in Pennsylvania typically pay 3-5% of the purchase price in closing costs. For a $254,000 home — the typical home value in Pennsylvania — that's between $7,620 and $12,700!
Frequently asked questions
- Save for down payment
- Get pre-approved for a mortgage
- Choose your preferred Pennsylvania neighborhoods
- Partner with the right real estate agent in Pennsylvania
- Go house hunting
- Make a strong offer
- Inspections and appraisals
- Do a final walkthrough and close
Yes, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency offers its Keystone Home Loan to first-time buyers, veterans, and buyers in target areas. The loan can be offered as a conventional mortgage, FHA loan, VA loan, or RD loan.
Down payment requirements vary based on which loan you select. Household income and purchase price limits apply and vary by county.