Figure out what you can afford
The buyer's mantra: Get a home that's financially comfortable.
There are various rules of thumb that will help you get an idea of how much home you can afford. If you're using FHA financing, as almost one-fifth of buyers get FHA-insured loans, your home payment can't exceed 31 percent of your monthly income. But with some mitigating factors, FHA will let you go higher.
Realistic debt-to-income ratio
For conventional loans, a safe formula is that home expenses should not exceed 28 percent of your gross monthly income, says Susan Tiffany, director of personal finance information for adults for the Credit Union National Association.
For a rough assessment of how much house you can afford, check out Bankrate's new house calculator.
Improve your chances by: trying on that financial obligation long before you sign the mortgage papers, says Tiffany. Before you home shop, calculate the mortgage payment for the home in your intended price range, along with the increased expenses (such as taxes, insurance and utilities). Then bank the difference between that and what you're paying now.
Not only does it allow you to build a nice nest egg, but "you can back away from it," or scale back, if the payments start to pinch, she says.
Now that you know how much you can afford, check out Bankrate's mortgage rate comparison-shopping tool.