Here are steps to take to help you decide whether you're ready for the best investment of your life.
Check the selling prices of comparable homes in your area.
Web sites such as ZILLOW and TRULIA.COM can give you a general idea of what you should expect to pay. You can also do a quick search of actual MLS listings in your area on a number of Web sites, including realtor.com sunbeltus.com, www.argct.com and Greenwich Homes.
See what you can afford.
Use Bankrate’s Mortgage Calculator to see what your payment would be. To get a sense of the maximum you should spend.
Find out what your total monthly housing cost would be.
Taxes and homeowners insurance. To get a feel for the maximum amount you should spend, including taxes and insurance, use our home affordability calculator. In some areas, what you'll pay for your taxes and insurance escrow can almost double your mortgage payment
To get an idea of what you'll pay in insurance, pick a property in the area where you want to live and make a call to a local insurance agent for an estimate.
You won't be obligated to get the insurance, but you'll have a good idea of what you'll pay if you buy. For an idea of what you'll pay in taxes, Zillow publishes property-tax information for homes all over the country. Just remember that exemptions and the intricacies of local tax law (such as Florida's Save Our Homes value cap) can create differences between what a homeowner is currently paying and what you can expect to pay as a new homeowner.
Find out how much you'll likely pay in closing costs.
The upfront cost of settling on your home shouldn't be overlooked. Closing costs include origination fees charged by the lender, title and settlement fees, taxes and prepaid items such as homeowners insurance or homeowners association fees. You can see what closing costs average in your state by looking at Bankrate.com's annual closing cost survey.
Look at your budget and determine how a house fits into it.
Fannie Mae recommends that buyers spend no more than 28% of their income on housing costs. Go much past 30% and you risk becoming house poor.
Speak to reputable real estate agents in your area about the real estate climate.