Be sure you’re ready to commit. You should plan to stay put for at least five years so that you have a shot at recouping the costs of buying and selling through home price appreciation. Guy Pahud, an exclusive buyer’s agent in Indianapolis, says that first-time buyers often think they’ll keep the home even longer, but they seldom do because they marry or have kids, or get a job transfer or promotion.
Also, remember that maintenance and repairs fall to you. You could ease into ownership by buying a condo or townhome, but you’ll pay association fees.
Start your search online. For the most current and complete listing of homes for sale in your city (excluding expired listings or already-sold homes), visit the Web site of the local multiple listing service (search your city’s name + Board of Realtors + MLS), urges Joanie Capalupo, with Moreland Properties, in Austin, Tex. If the site isn’t open to consumers, try the sites of local brokerage companies -- which may require you to register so that their agents can contact you, but you’re not required to do business with them.
Think location. Start with the big picture and work your way down, suggests Dana Hollish Hill, with the Buyer’s Edge, in Bethesda, Md. A house may have everything you want, but you may actually hate it if the location requires the commute from hell, the neighborhood is a major cut-through route for other commuters, or the lot sits next to a highway or fire station.