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Buying a house is at once the most exciting and the most frightening things that many of us will ever do. Broken down into a few steps, and allowing yourself some time and leeway, will greatly ease the anxiety.
1. Find out how much home you can afford. There are several ways to do this. Call your bank, or look it up on the internet (search "mortgage calculators"). This gives you a baseline from which to go.
2. Get pre-approved for a loan. This is probably the single most important thing that you can do. By getting pre-approved, you will be treated like a cash buyer, which makes the seller take you more seriously, and prevents any surprises (and disappointments) down the road. The pre-approval will usually last for four months, at which time it can easily be renewed, as long as interest rates have not changed too much.
3. Start shopping. This is the fun part, but remember, the real estate agent works for the seller, not for you. Be clear about the things that you definitely want, as well as the things you would like, but are not insistent on. Think about how you will feel in a few years. A tight driveway that backs onto a busy street may not seem like much now, but can wear you down after two or three years. Similarly, the darling landscaping around the house may become an overgrown mess in the same amount of time. The bottom line is, find a home that suits you, your lifestyle, and your future goals. Do not let someone else talk you into anything less.
4. Close the deal. This is not nearly as intimidating as it sounds. Be certain before you sign the contract that you know what is staying with the house and what is going, and consider having a professional home inspection done, even if your bank does not require one. This can save you time and money down the road.
5. Move in! This is the day you have been waiting on, enjoy!