Start with money. Talk to your bank or a mortgage broker to see how large a mortgage you can qualify for. Then take that number and factor in any additional expenses or spending preferences you won’t compromise on for a home. Take that monthly figure, and start saving the difference between that and what you’re already paying. This will allow you to “practice” paying the mortgage while you can still make adjustments, and the extra money will be helpful for unexpected expenses when you move.
Next, determine what kind of home you want. Do you want a new home or a resale? Are there certain neighborhoods or areas you want a home in for convenience to work or schools for your children? Start listing the most important factors. If you and a spouse/partner are buying a home together, make separate lists and figure out your priorities before you start looking.
New home builders have models to view. Be sure to include association fees and the cost of any upgrades you want. Also check into their financing. You might be able to get a better deal with their mortgage broker. You don’t really need a realtor with a new home purchase.
If you want a resale, start visiting open houses. This will give you a better idea of what homes look like in the neighborhoods you like and how much house you can buy in various locations. Only engage a realtor after answering those questions. That will make the search easier and quicker for both the realtor and you.
Finally, don’t get distracted by cosmetic characteristics in resale homes. Paint, flooring and light fixtures are easy to replace. Look at a home’s room size, arrangement and location. Pick a home that speaks to you, and then make it into a home that matches your style.