7-things-to-do-house-hunting
iStock; realtor.com

Once you decide to buy a home, the first thing you (understandably) want to do is pop into open houses and fantasize about your new life in your new digs.

It is a crucial part of the process. But jumping straight into the deep end could land you in trouble—both financially and emotionally.

Take it from me: When my husband and I bought our first house, we launched into the search without prepping properly. We fell in love with a two-bedroom bungalow far too quickly (it was one of the first homes we saw), and spent the entire closing process playing catch-up. We rushed to get a loan approved; we scrambled to understand our contingency options; and in the end, the home turned out not to be exactly what we needed.

I’ve made a promise to myself: Next time, I’ll think things through and prevent buyer’s remorse. And I urge you to, too. I talked with real estate pros to find out the things you should do before you ever set foot in a home.

1. Get your credit in order

Good credit is essential when buying a home. A poor credit score can lead to a higher interest rate and, by extension, a higher monthly payment. Dings on your credit—e.g., an old debt that’s been turned over to a collection agency, or a high credit card balance—can even prevent you from buying a home.

“You would think that, having heard so much about credit, people would know exactly what their credit is, but often they don’t,” says Marie Bromberg, a real estate agent with Corcoran in Brooklyn, NY. “Not knowing sets you back—a difference of 10 points can make a significant difference in your loan product.”

Before you start house hunting, pull your credit report (AnnualCreditReport.com is a reputable and free service) and address any problems dragging down your score.

2. Get pre-approved

Before setting foot in a home, find a reputable lender and get pre-approved. Let us be clear: This is not a simple pre-qualification; a pre-approval uncovers exactly how much house you can afford and is an essential component of a successful offer letter.

“Your offer means nothing without showing a pre-approval letter,” says California real estate agent Shelton Wilder.

Don’t have a lender yet? Don’t worry. Your agent can recommend local lenders, or you can seek out recommendations from other homeowners. Once you’ve settled on a lender you like, have the lender review your finances thoroughly to point out any concerns.

3. Make a list of your must-haves

Finally, the fun part! Now you get to start browsing home listings. In fact, feel free to start…