If you’re looking to buy a new home this spring, it’s not too early to start laying down the groundwork, which takes time. For example, you will need to get your finances in shape, begin applying for a mortgage, settle on a budget and decide where you want to live.

Price range and down payment
Most banks and online real estate sites have affordability and mortgage calculators that can help you settle on a budget.

To determine your down payment, assess what you have in hand, including the equity in your current home, if you have one. Also, include what you can realistically save between now and spring. Don’t forget that there will be closing costs.

Once you have a budget, research where you would like to live. You should consider schools, commute, housing density, amenities and determine which factors are most important to you.

Additionally, you should check online real estate listings, go to open houses and most importantly, visit your preferred neighborhoods at different times of day to assess various factors like traffic.

Credit score
Check your credit report now, and if you need to dispute anything, do that early in the process. Your credit report is available to you for free from each of the three major credit reporting agencies through annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Listed below are some ways to maintain and improve your score:

  • Pay your bills on time
  • Pay down credit card
  • Avoid applying for new credit cards or closing old ones

Check mortgage rates at various lenders. However, it is important to remember that the ultra-low rate you found online line might come with many headaches when it’s time to close, as you may have to deal with a lender by phone who is 1,000 miles away.

About a month before you plan on buying, choose your lender and get a pre-approval letter from them. With that in hand, you will be able to show a seller that you are a qualified buyer.