I have a slightly different approach than the others here and I had to answer it in two responses because it was so long, so I apologize it is broken up.
1 - My first tip is - and it's a big one so I apologize if it's a little long - that if you have not already spoken to a lender, pick your real estate agent first. This is the person you will be working closest with throughout the whole process, spending a lot of time in a car with them, and will, most likely, have a personal relationship with. An experienced agent will have a list of qualified lenders they work with on a regular basis. They work with them not only because they will offer the best loan packages, but because of the service they regularly give to their clients. This is why I have a small list of lenders I recommend my clients to - personal service, answer the phone day or night as well as a willingness to meet face-to-face with my clients. Believe it or not, some lenders want to do everything over the phone and never even meet their clients. My lenders also keep me aware of loan packages they have available for clients that have certain qualifications that a buyer may not even think to ask a lender about. For example: There are still 100% mortgages available. The VA offers a 100%, and sometimes higher, mortgage to military veterans and their families. Also, in rural areas (population of 10,000 or less) the USDA offers a 100-110% mortgage to those who qualify at or below the median salary range for that specific area. Non of the larger banks I know will even offer this loan because it involves a lot of paperwork, but smaller local banks are happy to offer this program.
2 - To help yourself, and your RealtorÂ®, make a top 10 list of what is important to you in a home. These are in no particular order, but will give you an idea of what to put on your list and I'm sure you can think of others, but this is a basic list.
4:Size-BR, BA, Sq. Ft., yard, garage, etc
5:Age of home and style: new build, older home, victorian, rancher, traditional, contemporary, etc - or if you are interested in a condo and what style of building
7:Timeline for purchase
8:Any special needs - ex: handicapped accessibility
10: Ideal Master bedroom
3 - When you have selected a lender, make sure you have your pre-approval from your lender ready to go with your RealtorÂ®, because when you find your ideal home, most likely it will also be someone else's, and you don't want to lose it because of a paperwork delay.
4- When you find a neighborhood you like, visit it at night, as well as the daytime. This will tell you a lot about your the neighborhood that you will never see in the light of day. And, as mentioned before, you can introduce yourselves to neighbors and ask them questions about how they like living there, or what they don't like. I had one client considering buying a house, until we spoke to a neighbor unloading groceries next door. She basically said, run...run as fast as you can away from this neighborhood! I'm trying to myself!
5 - You may not need as much money as you thought for a down payment. FHA loans, which make up a majority of mortgages, only require 3.5% for a down payment. Also, if cash-on-hand is an issue, have your agent request closing cost help in the contract. Most sellers will agree to this, depending on the price point. Your agent will check with your lender on exactly how much your loan will allow you to receive in concessions.
6 - If you are on-the-fence about really pulling the trigger and buying a house, or are still thinking about continuing to be a renter, let your RealtorÂ® know this up front. It will save both of you a lot of time and effort if your RealtorÂ® is not willing to work with someone who may not get to closing.