Is buying a home one of your new year’s resolutions in 2018? If you’re even thinking about buying your first home, you might be wondering: “where do I start?”

Whether you plan to pay cash or take out a mortgage to buy a home, the biggest financial transaction of your life requires a bit of pre-planning. Here are four steps to take if you’re planning on buying your first home.

Check your credit

Alan Meyerowitz, a Highland Park real estate broker, says to start with a credit check — no matter how spotless you think your record is.

“Even when buyers say their “credit is great, it won’t be a problem,” I usually follow up with, “I understand. Occasionally, there are items that come up on your credit report that you aren’t even aware of.”

If there are items (legitimate or mistakes) on your credit report that may disqualify you or reduce your worthiness for financing, the earlier you catch it, the sooner you can remedy the situation and prepare yourself to purchase.

It would be a good idea to speak with a lender, have them check your credit and make sure you are qualified, from a lending perspective, for the price point you want to shop for.

Even if you don’t plan to buy for a few months or longer, it can take that long or longer to fix credit issues or mistakes.

Get pre-qualified for a mortgage loan

Jen Furlong, a Chicago real estate broker, suggests contacting a lender before you do anything else related to your home search.

“If you’re thinking about buying a home, the first step I tell all of my clients would be to first speak with a mortgage broker about financing,” she said.

“They’ll be able to tell you exactly what kind of financing you’re approved for, how much home you can afford and the different types of loan terms & best rates available to you.”

Chicago real estate broker Carrie McCormick, agrees — she recommends that you get pre-qualified, not only to show potential sellers that you’re a serious buyer, but to understand other costs that could be associated with your home purchase — like real estate taxes.

“Start by getting pre-qualified. It is important to understand your buying power and what you are comfortable with. When making offers you will be ready to show the seller that you are prepared with a pre-qualification letter.

Also the new tax laws are in effect and Chicago real estate taxes are changing so it is a good idea to also consult with your accountant to understand your tax savings when purchasing a new home.”

Meet with a real estate professional

Buying a home — especially for the first time — is often an overwhelming process, but a real estate broker can guide you every step of the way. Fred Carmean, a Chicago real estate broker suggests engaging that person as early in the process as possible.

“Meet with your real estate broker as soon as the thought about buying pops into your head — even if it is 6 months or a year before you want to buy,” he said.

“Your real estate broker can help lay out the timeline, explain the process, help determine where and what you want to buy and start a preliminary search. He can also introduce you to competent lenders with whom they have a good working relationship.”

Fred adds that you and your broker should accelerate your search about 90 days from when you want to move.

“Your broker will schedule appointments to see properties that fit your criteria. If you attend open houses without your broker, make sure you advise the open house host that you are working with a broker. Your broker is legally tied to you and if a listing agent claims that you will save money if you cut your broker, it’s a red flag.

It’s a team effort and when we work together and are honest with with one another, we will have a successful outcome.”

Research the neighborhood where you want to buy a home

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and every one is unique.

You’ll want to keep an open mind when searching — you might think you want to live in Lincoln Park but then you find your dream home in Lakeview.

Or, you might have your sights set on a home in Elmhurst only to find out that it isn’t the right town for you.

This especially applies if you’re moving from the city to the suburbs, according to Barb Hondros, a real estate broker in Highland Park.

“If you are looking to move to the suburbs, I recommend driving around a few different suburbs first. Get a lay of the land and what that suburb offers.

Explore the different neighborhoods, their proximity to parks, public transportation, schools, restaurants etc. Explore what feels right for you and your family.

This allows you an opportunity to perhaps narrow down where you want to move.

Location is very important to some people, and if your first home purchase is in a neighborhood that you love than you can really enjoy and feel good about your decision to move and settle in knowing you made the right choice.”

Written by Maris Callahan
Maris is the director of communications at @properties. She lives in Wicker Park and when she's not at work, she's usually cooking, reading, writing or walking the 606 with her chihuahua, Henry.