Achieving the American dream of homeownership is a major milestone in life, but the process can seem daunting. Before you start house hunting you will need to shop around for a mortgage. There are a variety of options and your lender can help sort out which kind of financing is best for you. Before you start, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Understand your budget

Remember that your monthly payment will include not only principle and interest, but also insurance and taxes. And don’t forget that in addition to a down payment, most people will have closing costs that can be significant.

2. Understand the process

Talk to people you know who have recently purchased a home and ask about their experience. Talk to your lender about the process and timeline so you’re prepared when it’s time to make an offer on a home. Lenders will tell you what to expect after you make an offer on a home.

3. Talk to more than one lender

Get recommendations from friends and your real estate agent. Explore the different mortgage products they offer — especially those for first-time homebuyers like FHA loans and other types of loans with lower down payments. Choose a lender that’s responsive and helpful.  

4. Help your lender work for you

Once you make an offer on a home, you’re working with a deadline: the closing, or settlement date. There will be a lot of forms and documentation needed beforehand. Make sure your lender guides you through the process so you stay on track. Much of the process leading to closing can be done online or even on your smartphone. A good lender will do its best to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

If you understand the process before you start house hunting, you’ll be moving into your new home before you know it.