Unless you've got fat stacks of cash stored under your mattress, your first step to buying a home is getting pre-approved for a mortgage. You really can't move on to any of the fun stuff (snooping through people's stuff at open houses, perusing paint colors at Home Depot, sending your friends/mom an annoying number of Zillow listings to discuss) until you have this critical step taken care of. After all, you need to know exactly how much you can afford! So, where do you go and what do you need to do to get pre-approved?
1. Find a lender: There are so many options. You can start with your bank, or go to a credit union. You can use a website like rocketmortgage.com or use a local lender like HUNT Mortgage. If you feel like you might struggle to get the cash together for a down payment and closing costs, you can also look into first time buyer programs like M&T's First Home Club or the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), which provides low-interest no-down-payment loans.
2. Have your s$%t together: Make sure you are ready to provide your lender with a whole bunch of information about yourself. You'll need a current pay-stub, a bank statement, and information about any debts you may have (student loans, credit card payments, etc.). Your lender will also pull your credit score and ask you about the specifics of where you'll be looking (the taxes in the area impact your overall spending power!).
3. Stay consistent and communicative: After you've been pre-approved, you need to make sure you keep your finances pretty consistent. That means you don't go off and quit your job or purchase a Ferrari. You also want to stay in pretty consistent communication with your lender - let them know if you decide to move your housing search from Buffalo to Kenmore, for example, or if you found a place that is just a little over the number you'd discussed. They need to be in the loop!