Let's see if we can get away from the generalities and down to the details, so you actually have a roadmap...
There is the lending side and then, obviously (see below), the real estate side to buying. We lenders tend to deal in the very specific details involved in getting you qualified TO BUY (it is why my CPA/anal side comes in so handy in this profession... lol), whereas realtors are more in tune to WHAT you buy.
I believe the first step is to call a lender, such as myself, and go over all the details of your past, current and future financial position, as well as what it is you want to accomplish. I talk about the four pillars of lending--CCIA--Credit, Collateral, Income and Assets. Each of them comes with many details, too numerous to discuss here, but that is why you call and/or meet with a good lender.
Credit--we will pull your credit report and determine if there are any past or present issues which need addressing. There are certain levels of credit scores which qualify you for certain loan products. If you are not there currently, then we work to get you there. The credit report is free. So, you need to have a MORTGAGE credit report pulled and analyzed by a loan originator. (I recommend a licensed and bonded mortgage loan originator, which you will not find at a big bank or credit union, by the way...)
Collateral--this one just means the home you finally buy is worth enough to support the loan you want. This will involve an appraisal, once you find the home.
Income--We go over the past 2 years of income to see if it has been stable. We look at your current income to see if it is enough to qualify you for the loan you want/need. We look ahead three years, if the income is temporary. We look at your debts and determine which ones count against you and which do not. So, for this you need to produce recent pay stubs and W-2s.
Assets--For this one, we look at the sources for your down payment. Different loan products require different percentages of the purchase price be paid up front by you. Different loan products allow portions of the down payment to be gifted, others do not. We also discuss the closing costs and prepaids, and if you will pay them, get a gift, or ask the seller to help you. For this, you will need to have recent bank statements and other proof of money available.
That is about it, Alisa, and others. It sounds like a good deal of information, and it is, but with a good, no, great loan officer, it should all go rather smoothly. Then you go out and find the home of your dreams, knowing you are totally prepared!!
Have fun!! That is how the home buying process should feel!