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Evaluate your life and plans for the future and decide if it's the right time to buy a home. Review your financial picture. Get a copy of your credit report and fix any problems before you start the loan shopping process. Also determine how much home you can afford. Pre-qualifying for a loan will allow you to focus only on the homes you can manage.
Don't forget to shop around for mortgage rates. Half of a percentage point can make a difference in your payments and how much you'll pay over the life of a loan. Get professional help. Agents make their money off the seller, not the buyer, so essentially this is a free service to you. A good agent will work to find a home that fits your desires and your budget.
List what you want in a home. Provide your agent with a list of what's important to you -- the area of town you want to live in, length of time you're willing to commute to work, neighborhood amenities, schools, estimated property taxes for that area and safety. Also work with your agent to identify features that may help or hurt the resale value of your home, such as a pool or garage -- or the lack of one.
Rate the houses you tour. And when you narrow it down to one that's just right, consider hiring a home inspector to alert you to any problems that might cost you later.