Buying a house can be an exciting and, ultimately, fulfilling experience, especially if you’re becoming a homeowner for the first time. It can also be an extremely stressful and expensive time if you don’t prepare for the arduous process beforehand.

Here are five things you should definitely know before you even begin your house hunt:

Know if You Are Pre-Approved

A loan pre-approval is more than just real estate mumbo-jumbo. In fact, many realtors won’t even show you a home until you're pre-approved. First, you have to know what kind of loan you can qualify for so you know how much house you can afford. Also, you don’t want to waste time going through a lengthy loan process only to find out you don’t qualify. Time can be of the essence when you decide on a house, and you could lose your chance to buy it if your loan doesn’t come through quickly enough. Before you shop, get your finances in order.

Know How You’ll Pay

While you’re in the process of getting your pre-approval, plan how you’re going to pay for your new home. That includes the down payment, so you know how large a loan you need. You should have a plan for your monthly payment, including a few months of practice payments during which you set aside that much money to see how it affects your other spending capabilities. Make sure you also consider how you’ll pay for home repairs and routine maintenance, which will now be your responsibility.

Know What You Need and Want

Once you know how much house you can afford, you really can’t begin your hunt until you know how much house you need. Sit down and make a list of what you need in a new home and what you want in a new home. Make priorities and decide what requirements you can compromise. You aren’t going to find the perfect home, but you can find something you’ll love for a long time if you have a plan from the start. Also, remember to take measurements of your furniture so you know if a house’s space will fit you, so you don’t have to buy all new stuff when you move in.

Know the Market

It’s important to do your research before you start hunting for a home. Know the local market rates so you don't get stuck offering too much for a house. If you agree to buy a house for more than its appraised amount, your bank may not give you a loan. And if you pay too much for your new home, you’ll be stuck in a bind when it comes time to sell it if it hasn’t gone up much in value. Check sites like Zillow to see what other houses in the area are estimated to be worth, and make sure you ask your realtor to show you comparables.

Know What Flaws to Look For

During any house hunt, for both new and old properties, you should go in with your eyes wide open. No house is flawless, so be sure you know how to be a good home detective. Decorating and cosmetic flaws are easily negotiated and fixed, but structural flaws can cause expensive problems and insurance issues. Be on the lookout for foundation cracks, an aging roof, water damage in the basement or under or around bathrooms, as well as outdated appliances, like an old and dangerous furnace. If you’re taking a second look at a home that interests you, look under rugs and behind furniture for hidden damage, and visit the house at different times of day to see what it’s like to really live there.

Know That You Can Always Move On

The same is true of both houses and relationships. Much like there are plenty of fish in the sea, as they say, chances are there's more than one house on the market like the one you’re considering. This means that you don’t have to pay too much for the house you think is perfect. It means you don’t have to accept a house with major flaws to get that yard or school district you want. It means you can get just the right house for just the right price without feeling desperate. No house is your last chance to ever buy a home.

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