Maybe you’ve found an area you see yourself staying in for a while, or you’re living in an apartment that takes up a huge chuck of your income and you feel you have nothing to show for it. Whatever your reasoning, you’re considering purchasing your first home.

Buying a home is one of the biggest financial decisions people make in their lives and the key to success is knowledge. Below are five tips to help you achieve your dream of homeownership and make an informed decision.

Review Your Finances

Now is the time to take a long, hard look at your finances. You don’t need a zero balance on all your debts to purchase a home, but the less you owe to creditors, the better. Mortgage lenders recommend having a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 43% or less. DTI is a personal finance measure that compares the amount you earn to the amount you owe to make sure you’ll not be over-extended with your new mortgage payment.

Read More: What do Mortgage Lenders Look for When Approving a Home Loan?

Also, be sure to review how much you’re spending and where it’s going every month.  This can give you an idea of how much you can afford to allocate to a mortgage payment and help you come up with a better savings plan.

When is the Right Time to Buy?

A house is a commitment, and you’ll need time to customize and do what’s needed to make it your own.  To get the most out of your home, plan to stay there for a few years.

When planning to buy a home, you’ll need to be flexible with your time. In this competitive housing market, the ideal situation is to be prepared to buy, but also be able and willing to wait. You may find your dream home in a few weeks, or it may take a few months.

Prepare Your Savings

Although many mortgage lenders offer several no to low down payment programs to help prospective home buyers, it’s a good idea to have money saved for other associated costs. You may need extra cash for moving expenses, your emergency fund, any immediate repairs and new appliances, potential homeowner association fees or closing costs.

Read More: How to Get a Mortgage with Low or No Down Payments

Padding your savings account is another integral milestone for would-be home buyers and it’s easier than you think.  One way is to put your potential mortgage payment straight into savings every month.

After meeting with a mortgage professional and determining you can afford a monthly mortgage payment larger than your current rent, pretend for a few months to make that mortgage payment. You can do this by placing the extra amount you would pay into your savings. Not only does this action prepare you for making mortgage payments, it also serves as a savings plan.

How much house can you afford? Try the Castle & Cooke Mortgage Affordability Calculator.

However, not all mortgages payments will be more expensive than rent. In fact, the latest data from RealtyTrac shows buying is cheaper than renting in three out of four U.S. housing markets. If this is the case for you, review your budget to see where you can cut costs to save. Another  idea may be to budget as if you make less money, or if you’re married, try to base your budget off one person’s income.

Determine How Much You Qualify for

While idly shopping for a home is exciting, the process should begin long before you attend any open houses. Instead, begin by scheduling an appointment with a mortgage lender to get prequalified. Prequalifying for a mortgage can give you a buying edge against the competition and serves as a good indicator to potential sellers and realtors that you are a serious buyer.

Are you ready to begin the home buying process? Start your application online and get prequalified.

Prequalification also gives you a better idea of what you can afford.  When you meet with your real estate agent, he or she will most likely ask what your price range and criteria are so they can begin finding your dream home.

Though the traditional down payment for a mortgage is 20% of a home’s purchase price, mortgage companies, such as Castle & Cooke Mortgage, offer several lower down payment mortgage options, including a 3.5% down payment for an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan and as little as a 3% down payment for some conventional loans.

Your monthly mortgage payment is based on a variety factors, including the size of your down payment, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, credit score and possibly mortgage insurance. Your mortgage lender will be able to provide more information about what your payment may include.

Read more: What’s Included in Your Monthly Mortgage Payment?

Find a Real Estate Agent

Choosing a real estate agent to help you find your home is a decision that is both business and relationship-based. The choice has a potentially massive impact on your finances and the home you’ll enjoy during the next few years.

Read More: How TRID Is Changing the Home Loan Process

A good real estate agent will take the time to discover your needs and wants as well as serve as your advisor and advocate during the home buying process. He or she will the oversee the negotiation process, make sure all the necessary forms and documents are filled out and that certain tasks – like the home appraisal – are completed in a timely manner. The real estate agent will also be present at closing to ensure your needs are met.

Deciding to buy a home is one of the biggest decisions people make in their lives, and owning a home is making an investment in your future.  Before you begin your home search, be sure to reach out to your local mortgage lender to determine what you qualify for.