Of all the purchases you’ll ever make, a house will probably be the biggest of them all. Biggest in terms of both personal commitment and dollars spent. You’re not only buying a structure, you’re laying down roots in a community. The property becomes yours to care for, cultivate, and improve. Yet for all the importance, significance, and investment that goes with buying a home, it’s amazing how many home buyers don’t have a plan. Hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line with no real strategy for shopping, selecting, or financing. If there were ever a purchase that deserved thought, planning, and careful consideration, it’s a house.

With this in mind, here are 7 things you need to do before buying a house:

  1. Check your credit report.
    You’d better believe the banks will be checking. If there’s a delinquent payment or even an error from the credit bureaus, it could cost you your mortgage (and your dream home). Websites like CreditKarma.com let you check your credit scores for free. Good credit scores not only improve your chances of being approved for a mortgage…they also give the bank a reason to offer you the best interest rate possible.
  2. Speaking of approval…
    Get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start house hunting. This will speed up the process, help prevent any heartbreaking surprises later, and give you a realistic idea about how much house you can afford.
  3. No big purchases or new credit accounts
    Lenders don’t like to see any last-minute shopping sprees, new credit cards, or large departures of money from your checking account. The name of the game is risk & stability. They want a nice, stable home buyer who uses credit responsibly. Be sure to wait until after the loan closes before you buy that new car!
  4. Time your commute
    Mapping your commute is not enough. You need to drive it – during rush hour. Only then will you know what you’re getting into. Your commute is happening twice a day, five days a week – so make sure you’re comfortable with the amount of time you’ll be spending behind the wheel.
  5. Be realistic about your fixer-upper skills
    No matter how many design shows you watch, your capabilities should always match the home you’re buying. The average person can’t replace a roof or install drywall (If you can, congratulations!). So, if you lack handyman skills, then be prepared to pay a professional for any work your house needs. Or consider buying a brand-new house, which comes with fewer issues…and a warranty from the builder.
  6. Check out the nearby schools
    If you have kids, you’re going to have kids, you might someday have kids, or you want to have kids, check out the schools in the neighborhood. The time between newborn and first day of school comes at you pretty fast, and you’ll be glad you planned ahead when shopping for your home.
  7. The yardwork factor
    Some people like getting their hands dirty. Others…not so much. Keep this in mind when house hunting. Big yards mean lots of yardwork. And if you’d rather spend your weekends golfing, hiking, or sleeping in, then you might want to consider a home with a small, low-maintenance yard. Less to manage, and more free time for you.

As they say, people don’t plan to fail – they fail to plan. Don’t be like those people – especially when buying a house!