Finally taking the home purchase plunge? Congratulations! Now that you're in the game, it's time to get informed and make educated decisions. The process is filled with industry-specific terms, vendors, and a glut of information -- ugh.
You may be wondering where to begin. With this arsenal of tools in your corner, you'll sail smoothly through the process -- starting from a sound first step -- and right into your perfect home.
First things first, get comfortable with the process and your rights. HUD.gov, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's website, has several resources for people thinking about buying a home, including information about predatory lending and your rights as a borrower. Don't worry if these concepts are foreign; soon enough they will become part of your vocabulary.
"I'm currently searching for my first home, and after receiving so much 'great advice' from well-meaning friends, I decided to educate myself," says Kathleen Anderson, a prospective homebuyer in Seattle, WA. "Now that I have some industry knowledge and information, I feel so much more in control of the process."
Pro tip: A comprehensive glossary of terms can be your new best friend. "Addenda," "earnest money," "inspection reports," "escrow" -- oh my! Taking the time to educate yourself will make you feel more comfortable throughout the process.
Calculate the cash
There's no doubt about it, buying a house is a serious financial commitment. Understanding your purchasing power upfront is essential to a smooth process.
There's nothing worse than locating your dream kitchen in a $300,000 home and then finding out that your maximum purchase price is $225,000 -- a total bummer. Avoid this heartbreak by using Trulia's mortgage affordability calculator and start your search off on the right foot.
Pro tip: If, after you've calculated the numbers, your down payment is a bit on the low side, get yourself back on track with these tips and tricks.
Remember, location is everything
Yes, the home itself is important; its size, layout, and design are all integral to daily life. But also its location is critical -- is there a park down the street? Can I walk to get a coffee in the morning? Is the street busy during rush hour?
Your future home is part of a community, and learning its characteristics before you buy is mission critical. Trulia offers a detail-rich map you can search based on a property's location in relation to hundreds of amenities. (Try it out; you can thank me later.)
Pro tip: Thinking of buying in NYC? Perfect. Try out Revaluate, an app that gives you firsthand accounts of what it's really like to live in any apartment, co-op, or condo in Manhattan. Hidden issues, potential problems, and all the goodness each building offers.
Pay attention to safety
And nearly last but not least, let's talk about safety: to get the lowdown on all the activities in a specific neighborhood, use this interactive map as a one-stop shop. Learn all the particulars of your target neighborhood and put your mind at ease before you sign on the dotted line.
Pro tip: It's also a good idea to evaluate the safety of your prospective home as well, especially if you are a solo buyer. Use these tips as a guideline and rest assured you will feel safe and sound.
Make your plan
Do yourself a favor and bookmark these sites for quick reference. Start by educating yourself and using the calculator to establish the maximum purchase price of your home. Then use the online tools to evaluate the contenders based on proximity to critical amenities and your ideal community characteristics.
A smart approach to evaluating homes will make the process smoother and help ensure you will be sitting pretty in your new home well before the end of the year.
This article originally appeared on Trulia.com.