1. Check Your Credit Score
There just isn't any point in touring homes until you know what kind of mortgage you can qualify for. It doesn't matter how strong your love is for your dream home if you can't pre-qualify. Check your credit score with one of the online tools such as Creditsesame.com
. If it's not so hot, you need to take a deep breath and work on improving your score before you try to finance a home. The other factor that will determine your ability to qualify for a home is your down payment. In most cases, this will be around 20 percent of the cost of the home. If you don't have it, or you're not a first-time homebuyer who qualifies for a low or no-down-payment grant, loan, or program, you may need to save for a while.
2. Make a List of What You Want and Need
Your list of needs/wants may change over time. During your house-hunting experience, consider what your family wants/needs now and what you might need in the future. For starters, your list might include potential neighborhoods, your ideal price range, size, and location.
3. Choose a Location
You no doubt have an idea of a few neighborhoods where you'd like to live. Be sure to spend some time in these neighborhoods, observing traffic and the comings and goings. Ask yourself if the neighborhood seems safe. Is there a lot of traffic on the street you're considering? Do the neighbors keep up their properties? Pay attention to these things when picking a neighborhood.
4. Make a Budget
It's nice to dream of what you want in a home, but you need to be realistic about what you can afford. Create a budget and stick to it. Figure out how much you can afford per month for your mortgage, then get your pre-qualification letter from your bank. Be sure to figure into your budget what you can afford for furnishings, decorations, and utilities.
5. Choose a Real Estate Agent
You need your own real estate agent -- not the agent that represents the house that you're hoping to buy. Your agent should be there for you during all stages of house hunting and buying, from the walk-through and on to the closing. You want an agent who knows the area, knows the market, and who can advise you about repairs and upgrades.