Buying a home can be complicated process, and it can be particularly trying for the first-time home buyer.
The first and most important task to get done before looking at homes is to set an appointment with a lender and get yourself pre-approved for a loan. This shows commitment on your part and lets the seller and your Realtor know you are ready to go! This is also a good time to evaluate your credit score and see where you stand. One rule that still applies today is, the higher your credit score, the lower your down payment and monthly payments will be. It will tell you exactly what price range you need to be looking in and it will give you an overview of the fees you will likely encounter during the closing process so there is nothing left to speculation.
Once you have a figure you can sit down and look to see what you are personally comfortable with spending. Just because you are qualified for $300k doesn't mean you have to spend the entire $300K. Don't buy more house than you actually need.
Other items to consider is down payment. There are many different loan types out there and you could be responsible for anywhere from 0 down with a VA/USDA loan to 20% down with a conventional. Do you have enough in your savings to cover a down payment? What about any closing costs you could be responsible for, as well as earnest money? These are all things you need to ponder when deciding if you can afford to purchase a home.
Once you have your pre-approval in place you can begin researching neighborhoods and looking for an agent. Shop around for an agent. Signing up with the first one you meet with is not always in your best interest. Make sure that agent is a good fit for you. Can accommodate your schedule in finding a home. If you work a 9-5 job you will want an agent who can show you homes after hours and on weekends. An agent who only works 9-5 during the week or is only a "part-time" agent is not going to be able to accommodate you. Are they willing to actually help you find a home or will they leave it up to you locate the homes you want to see? Look for an agent who will represent you fully. One who will have your best interests at heart and can help you with strategies during the bidding process. Keep in mind that it is difficult for an agent to fully represent both sides of a transaction which is currently allowed in the state of Georgia.
Note to remember:Realtors are not tour guides and don't like hearing "we're really not ready to buy, we're just looking right now". They want to see commitment and follow-through on the buyers side. We don't get paid to drive people around to window shop or to get decorating ideas. It would be the equivalent of you going to work each day and working for free. Preparing and arming yourself from the get-go is best. That way there will be few, if any, surprises in the process.