Buying your first home can be a very daunting experience. It’s most likely the biggest financial decision you’re ever going to make. So, here are a few things that you need to do before you start shopping around.

Take stock of your financial situation. Start by making sure you have an emergency fund that covers three to six months of your living expenses. Anything on top of that is what you can use for a down payment on your house. Be sure to have a good, concrete understanding of where every penny is going in order to make sure that there aren’t any leaks in your financial plumbing.

Talk to a mortgage broker. See if you can get pre-approved because when you’re making offers, the seller usually wants to know if you’ve been pre-approved. If you haven’t, that can count against you if you are competing against someone who is.

Check your credit score. Make sure that there aren’t any surprises or anything that you need to dispute. You can get your free credit report at You want to have a good-to-excellent credit score so you can get the best interest rates that are available.

Shop around for a mortgage. When you’re ready to finally shop around for a mortgage, fees vary. There are different places to check out, like your local bank, your credit union, mortgage bankers, and mortgage brokers. Even if you get approved by one, it doesn’t hurt to get approved by another and see what your options are.

Find a good real estate agent. Real estate agents know all the questions to ask; who to call for anything you might need; they know how the schools are, etc. They will do all that research for you. After you’ve found a house that you like, take a look at the taxes and all the miscellaneous expenses. If you’re buying a condo, find out what the Homeowners Association’s monthly dues are, and make sure that the condo board has a good reserve and sufficient funds so that you’re not going to be worried about getting hit with an assessment when they have to make repairs.

I remember when I was looking for a house, it was overwhelming for me. Sometimes realtors show you what’s above and beyond your budget, and then you end up seeing things that you love — but you know you really can’t afford. But, if you go about it the right way and get all your ducks in a row from the start, you’ll eventually find the house of your dreams.