Check your credit
The homebuyer's credit score is among the most important factors when it comes to qualifying for a loan these days.
"In addition, the standards are higher in terms of what score you need and how it affects the cost of the loan," says Mike Winesburg, formerly a mortgage planner with McKinley Carter Wealth Services in Wheeling, West Virginia.
To get a sense of where your credit stands, go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.
Scour the reports for mistakes, unpaid accounts or collection accounts.
Just because you pay everything on time every month doesn't mean your credit is stellar, however. The amount of credit you're using relative to your available credit limit, or your credit utilization ratio, can sink a credit score.
The lower the utilization rate, the higher your score will be. Ideally, first-time homebuyers would have a lot of credit available, with less than a third of it used.
Repairing damaged credit takes time -- and money, if you owe more than lenders would prefer to see relative to your income. Begin the process at least six months before shopping for a home.