How to start your house hunt

Feb 20, 2012 at 3:14 a.m. ET

Starting the hunt for the perfect home can be an arduous, overwhelming task. How do you know the home that is perfect for you now will be a good purchase 10 years from now? Breaking down the process into simple steps can help you on your way to finding that cozy cottage or spacious two-level.

Couple looking for new home

Step 1: Determine your price range

There are many factors that play into determining how much house you can afford. If you're good with crunching numbers, take a look at your income versus expenses. Factor in all other bills and payments you'll have to make once you purchase the home. If you need assistance, a personal financial planner can help you decide if you should play it conservative or splurge on your new abode.

Step 2: Find a neighborhood that suits your personality

Are you an uptown sophisticate or a downtown hipster? Maybe somewhere in between? Think about your priorities in location. Is this a home where you'll raise children? Maybe take a trip out to the suburbs. Are you more of an artsy, eclectic type? Maybe a spot in the center of town is your best bet. Knowing yourself and your priorities in life is the first place to start. You know what they say about real estate -- "location, location, location." That advice is just as important to your house hunt as it is to the home's resale value.

Step 3: Find a good real estate agent

Check with friends and family who have used a real estate agent in your location. Once you find one, check their references to make sure they're up to snuff for your search. Sure, they get to take a cut when the housing deal goes through, but working with a real estate agent can dramatically limit the stress of finding a new home. You can go on with your day-to-day life while the agent scouts locations and homes that best suit your needs.

Step 4: Take your time

Sure, some homes need to be purchased in a hurry, but if you have the time, take it! Taking your time will only ensure that you make the most affordable, practical choice in this situation. Be picky. If you don't like how small the kitchen is, but love the rest of the house, make sure you look at other options in the same neighborhood. It's a buyer's market, so use that to your advantage.

More home buying tips

How to determine your housing budget
How to pick a great neighborhood
How the home buying process works

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