1. Check the selling prices of comparable homes in your area. Web sites such as Zillow
can give you a general idea of what you should expect to pay. You can also do a quick search of actual MLS listings in your area on a number of Web sites, including the site of the National Association of Realtors.
2. See what you can afford. Use Bankrate’s mortgage calculator
to see what your payment would be. To get a sense of the maximum you should spend, use MSN Real Estate’s home affordability calculator.
3. Find out what your total monthly housing cost would be, including taxes and homeowners insurance. To get a feel for the maximum amount you should spend, including taxes and insurance, use MSN Real Estate's home affordability calculator
. In some areas, what you'll pay for your taxes and insurance escrow can almost double your mortgage payment.
To get an idea of what you'll pay in insurance, pick a property in the area where you want to live and make a call to a local insurance agent for an estimate. You won't be obligated to get the insurance, but you'll have a good idea of what you'll pay if you buy. For an idea of what you'll pay in taxes, Zillow publishes property-tax information for homes all over the country. Just remember that exemptions and the intricacies of local tax law (such as Florida's Save Our Homes value cap) can create differences between what a homeowner is currently paying and what you can expect to pay as a new homeowner.
4. Find out how much you'll likely pay in closing costs. The upfront cost of settling on your home shouldn't be overlooked. Closing costs include origination fees charged by the lender, title and settlement fees, taxes and prepaid items such as homeowners insurance or homeowners association fees.
5. Look at your budget and determine how a house fits into it. Fannie Mae recommends that buyers spend no more than 28% of their income on housing costs. Go much past 30% and you risk becoming house poor.
6. Talk to reputable real-estate agents in your area about the real-estate climate. Do they believe prices will continue falling or do they think your area has hit bottom or will rise soon?
7. Remember to look at the big picture. While buying a house is a great way to build wealth, maintaining your investment can be labor-intensive and expensive. When unexpected costs for new appliances, roof repairs and plumbing problems crop up, there's no landlord to turn to, and these costs can drain your bank account.