Whether you’re a first-time home buyer or a seasoned real estate investor, buying a home is an exciting process. However, there’s also a lot to consider when you decide to buy. So before you begin your search for the perfect property, here are four questions you should ask yourself.

What do I want?
Take the time to figure out what type of property you want to buy. From single-family and multi-family homes to condos and town homes, there are many different options on the market and it’s important to choose the type that best fits your needs. Figuring out the town or neighborhood you want to live in is equally important. While a property might have all of the amenities you’re looking for, factors like proximity to shopping, entertainment and transportation will impact your home-owning experience. A good idea is to list out and prioritize your needs (e.g. large backyard, great school system) before you begin your search.

What can I afford?
The rule of thumb is that you should never spend more than 30% of your monthly income on a mortgage payment. An alternate rule states that you can afford to buy a property that runs about two-and-a-half times your annual salary. For a more tailored look at what you can afford, use an online mortgage calculator to see what your monthly mortgage payments would be if you bought a home today. A local lender can also help you with that process based on your individual circumstance.

Am I financially prepared?
A few months before you start searching for a home, review your credit history and make sure it is in good standing. Get copies of your credit report, ensure that it’s accurate, and fix any issues you discover. It’s likely that you’ll also want to get pre-approved for a home loan, which will put you in a better position to make a serious offer once you find the right property. Pre-approval from a lender is based on your credit history, debt, and income.

How do I make the best bid possible?
Do your research! Your opening bid should be based on the sales trends of similar homes in the area. So before making your opening bid, get online and review the selling prices of comparable properties. Your agent can help you decide how competitive the bidding will be for a particular home by accessing both public and non-public information. Many homes sell “off-market” and are not on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)  and your agent should have information about these past and present sales.