“I want to buy a house, but I don’t know much about home loans. How do I get one? Where do I go to find out more?”

I get these questions often from potential buyers who are confused--and often overwhelmed--by the home mortgage process. Getting a home loan doesn’t have to be an ordeal if you do your homework first. A qualified real estate agent can assist with a list of local lenders and information resources to make your life easier. So just ask!

I recommend that you do two things right away, even before you start house hunting:

•    Get your credit reports from the “Big Three” credit reporting agencies. Lenders will review these reports, and you need to know what they contain--and where you stand. Don’t be surprised by “red flags” when negotiating with a lender. Take action beforehand to correct or explain the negatives.

Under Federal law, you’re entitled to one free report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion each year. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to learn more.

•    Get pre-qualification from one or more lenders on a possible loan amount. That way you’ll have a good “guesstimate” of the loan amount you would qualify for--and how much house you can afford. Once you’ve chosen a lender, you can even get pre-approved for a loan. Knowing your mortgage limit up front will be a tremendous help in your search for the right home.

So how do you find out about mortgage loan basics and the best way to work with lenders? One resource I like is Looking for the Best Mortgage, a free, easy-to-understand booklet you can download from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You’ll get a “shop, compare, negotiate” strategy:

•    How to get loan information from more than one lender
•    How to get rate and fee information that you can compare
•    How to get your “best deal”

This publication also includes a glossary of common mortgage loan terms and a handy worksheet you can use when talking with lenders. The worksheet is great. You’ll find yourself saying, “I didn’t even think of that!” And that’s why it’s such a valuable resource: It keeps you organized and on point.

Bottom line: Do your homework. Learn what you need to know about your home mortgage options up front--and get approved quickly for your new home when you’re ready to buy.

Want to know more about home mortgages? Just ask your real estate agent. We’re always happy to help!