Nervous about buying a home?
You should be. Your home is probably the single biggest investment you'll make in your lifetime. With an unpredictable economy, a mortgage crisis and record foreclosures, the commitment to buy can be downright overwhelming.
In recent years, lax lending standards eliminated some of the obstacles, but now lenders are once again getting picky.
The good news is that for those who qualify for a mortgage -- with a steady income, strong credit and a modicum of savings -- this is actually a good time to purchase a home. Mortgage rates are low, and home prices have been declining in most parts of the United States. Buying my first home
To help you navigate the uncertainties, especially if you're entering the market for the first time, here are 10 tips for buying a house:
1. Find out how much you can afford, and stay within your budget.
Don't overreach. Forget the McMansion on the hill if it's beyond your means. Focus on finding something that will offer affordable monthly payments and a debt load you can handle. Calculator: How much can I afford?
To make sure you fully understand and remain within your boundaries, consider a preapproved mortgage. Many reputable lenders offer them. The preapproval process tells you exactly what you will have to pay. Preapproval also provides some extra peace of mind, ensuring that when the time comes, you'll have financing in place. That can be important to real-estate agents and sellers as well as to buyers.
If you're planning to buy, your household budget should allow for hefty savings toward a down payment, unless you're expecting a generous gift from a family member. The days when first-time buyers could purchase a home with a down payment of less than 10% are gone. Lenders are now requiring buyers to put down a minimum of 10% and sometimes up to 20% to 25%.
"First-time buyers must come to the table with some dollars," says Ilyce Glink, the author of "100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask" and "100 Questions Every Home Seller Should Ask." "You need more income, a better credit score and to think about how much debt you can carry. It has become a more difficult process." Get your credit score up
2. Shop around for the right agent.
Real-estate agents operate on different internal clocks. One may be inclined to call you every day, while another may want to call every few weeks. Ask questions about the agent's approach and try to find