Finding a home for sale may seem like a piece of cake: just search online, visit open homes on the weekend, make and offer and move in, right? Before you start your search, contact a local Realtor or myself to help you navigate through the neighborhood trends and keep you on track.
Can you believe it? You’re about to buy a home! That’s a big deal! Purchasing a house is both exciting and challenging. We know you’re ready to start making memories in your dream home, but if you’re not careful, the house you buy can cause financial strain. So how can you feel at ease and buy an affordable home you love?
You came to the right place! We put all of our tried and true home-buying advice into a simple guide so you can buy a house that’s a perfect fit for you and your budget.
This step-by-step plan will walk you through the home-buying process to:
- Know how much house you can afford and plan for additional costs.
- Get a mortgage that saves you tens of thousands and learn how to get preapproved.
- Choose the right real estate agent, neighborhood and house.
- What to expect after you sign on the dotted line.
Whether you’re looking for a new home right now or home buying is part of your future, this guide will help you make the process as simple as possible.
Know the Lingo:
If you want to be a smart homebuyer, start with the basics: Learn the language.
Let’s begin with terms you’ll need to know while you’re looking for your dream home. Some homebuyers start with a simple Google search of “homes for sale” and end up using free websites like Realtor and Zillow. That’s an option, but that information can be out-of-date. For the latest home listings and up-to-date status information, CONTACT ME or find a real estate agent, who will be able to give you the inside scoop.
Multiple Listing Service (MLS)
When you work with an agent, you’ll have access to their multiple listing service (MLS), a list of local and regional properties for sale compiled by real estate agents and brokers. An MLS gives you the first choice and an upper hand over competing homebuyers who just search free websites.
Active vs. Pending
As you search through home listings, you’ll need to understand the terms and abbreviations used to describe properties. For example, a property listed as active is one that’s on the market and available for you to buy. But you’ll have to think fast because other buyers may already be interested.
If you see a home status that is pending, you’ll need to keep looking. That means a buyer has made an offer on the home and the seller has accepted. They just have a few more real estate hoops to jump through before the sale is final.
Now let’s decode some common listing abbreviations:
- BA:Bathroom (e.g., “2.5 ba” stands for two full bathrooms and one half bathroom)
- BD or BR:Bedroom
- DR:Dining room
- FB:Full bathroom (toilet, sink, and shower/bathtub)
- HB:Half bathroom or powder room (only toilet and sink)
- LR:Living room
- SQ FT:Square footage
- HOA FEE:Homeowner association fee (for neighborhood amenities and maintenance)
- W/D:Washer and dryer
After you’ve reviewed some listings or found a home you want, you need to be familiar with terms associated with home value. For starters, an appraised value is a professional appraiser’s unbiased estimate of a home’s fair market value. Their estimate is based on recent sales of similar homes in the surrounding area called comparables or comps. In a typical mortgage loan process, a lender chooses a licensed appraiser to determine the value of the property you want to buy. This knowledge protects you from a seller who puts a ridiculously inflated price on their home.
An assessed value is an estimate determined by a local or state government for property tax purposes. Once a value is assigned, the government applies a property tax rate to the assessed value, which you’ll pay for as long as you own the house. (Woo-hoo!) A home’s assessed value is usually a different amount than its appraisal, so be careful not to confuse the two.
When you have these terms fresh in your mind, you won’t feel rushed into making dumb decisions. Instead, you’ll kick off your home-buying journey like a real estate wiz!
The Financial Aspect
Calculate How Much House You Can Afford
Now that your head is clear on real estate terms, you’re ready to figure out how much house you can actually afford. Remember, you’re the boss! Your family is counting on you to make smart choices.
It doesn’t matter if the kitchen is fabulous or the backyard is big. If you can’t pay the mortgage each month or find the cash to fix what’s broken, your home will become a burden—not a blessing. But with the simple tips below, you can end up in an affordable home you love—and be your family’s home-buying hero!
Calculate the Costs
By simply crunching a few numbers, you can figure out how to buy a home that won’t bust your budget. Follow the steps below to determine how much house you can afford.
- Add up all the income you bring in each month.
Let’s say you bring home $3,000 and your spouse makes $4,000 each month. Your total monthly take-home pay would be $7,000.
- Multiply your monthly take-home pay by 25% to get your maximum mortgage payment.
If you take home $7,000 a month, your monthly house payment should be no more than $1,750.
- Use a mortgage calculator to determine your budget.
Sticking with the example of a take-home income of $7,000 a month, you could afford these options on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage at a 4% interest rate:
- $245,000 home with a 10% down payment ($24,500)
- $295,000 home with a 20% down payment ($59,000)
- $335,000 home with a 30% down payment ($100,500)
- $390,000 home with a 40% down payment ($156,000)
These are just estimates. Don’t forget property taxes and homeowner’s insurance will affect your monthly payment. Our mortgage calculator is an easy way to see how those costs will impact your home-buying budget.
For example, if you plug in a mortgage amount of $295,000 with a 20% down payment at a 4% interest rate, you’ll find your monthly payment of $1,746 increases to $2,087 when you add $270 for taxes and $71 for insurance. To bring your monthly housing expenses back within a budget of $1,750, you’ll need to lower the price of the house you can afford to about $245,000.
Use the calculator to try other combinations and find the right mortgage amount, interest rate and down payment for your budget.
- Factor in homeownership costs.
Your emergency fund can cover major home disasters. But if you’ll be paying homeowner association (HOA) fees or saving up for a few major home upgrades, you’ll need to build room in your monthly budget for those expenses.
Other homeownership expenses to factor into your monthly budget may include:
● Utilities (which may cost more or less depending on the house)
● Ongoing maintenance and repairs (depending on the age of the home)
● Yard care (if needed)
When starting your house hunt, make sure you’re working within your budget. It’s not worth it if you can’t afford it!
Saving for a Down Payment
You’re doing awesome. You’ve wrapped your mind around the basics of the real estate world. You’ve put together your monthly budget and figured out how much house you can afford. Now it’s time to hit the ground running toward saving for a down payment that will set your home purchase off on the right foot!
Of course, the best way to buy a house is to pay with cash. But if that’s unrealistic for your timeline, we’ve got some guidelines to help you set a savings goal to cover the upfront costs of your dream home. No sweat!
How Much Should You Save?
Just like with any goal, it takes planning and preparation to buy a home the smart way—especially if you’re taking out a mortgage. The most time-consuming task is saving enough cash for the down payment, closing costs and other moving expenses.
We recommend saving for a down payment of 20% because you’ll avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI is an extra cost added to your monthly mortgage payment, and it doesn’t go toward paying off your mortgage balance. If you can’t save 20%, try to put down at least 10%. So if you plan to buy a $200,000 house, you need to save a down payment of at least $20,000–40,000.
What are closing costs? When you close on a house—which is basically just signing all the paperwork that officially makes your new home yours—you must pay for expenses like appraisal fees, home inspections, credit reports and attorney fees. You’ll also need to cover property taxes and homeowner’s insurance for the rest of the year. Lenders call these prepaid items. Your real estate agent and lender will give you a detailed list of these costs before your closing day.
On average, you’ll pay 3–4% of the purchase price of your home in closing fees. For a $200,000 home, that’s another $6,000–8,000 you’ll need to save on top of your down payment, which will bring your savings goal to a range of $26,000–48,000.
Moving and Other Expenses
Moving expenses can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on how much stuff you’re moving and how far away you are from your new home. You can get quotes from local moving companies ahead of time to help with budgeting. Remember, if you also plan to make immediate updates to your home (like painting or installing blinds), you’ll need money for that too!
If you don’t have enough money saved for these upfront costs, you’ll either need to hold off on your home purchase or shoot a little lower with your price range. Whatever you do, don’t let the closing costs keep you from making the biggest down payment possible. The larger the down payment, the less you’ll owe on your mortgage!
Find a Lender
Get Preapproved for a Mortgage
Look at you go! You’re on your way to buying your first freakin’ house! Now it’s time to get serious. If you’re going the mortgage route, you need something to show home sellers just how serious you are: a preapproval letter.
What’s a Preapproval Letter and Why Get One?
First, don’t confuse prequalified with preapproved. A lender can prequalify you to buy a house after a quick conversation about your income, assets and down payment. But getting preapproved will take a little more work. A lender will need to verify your financial information and submit your loan for preliminary underwriting. That extra effort will pay off when you begin your home search. A preapproval letter shows your “throw me the keys” level of seriousness as a buyer to sellers.
Imagine a seller, who’s eager to move, scanning through buyer offers and finding that you’re already preapproved for a mortgage. They’ll be relieved and confident you’re ready to do the deal—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
How Do You Get Preapproved?
Sure, having a mortgage lender shove your financial life under a microscope probably isn’t your idea of fun. But if you gather all the documents you need before meeting with a lender, the process will be as easy as possible. Here’s what your lender will ask for:
- Driver’s license or U.S. passport
- Social Security card or number
- A copy of the front and back of your permanent resident card (if you aren’t a U.S. citizen)
- Credit history
- Employment verification (proof of status and yearly salary)
- Pay stubs covering the last 30 days
- W-2 forms from the last two years
- Proof of any additional income
- Federal income tax returns (personal and business) with all pages and schedules from the last two years
- Bank statements proving you have enough money to cover the down payment and closing costs
- A gift letter saying your down payment is a gift, not an IOU (if applicable)
- Latest quarterly statements for asset accounts including your 401(k), IRA, stock accounts and mutual funds
What Mortgage Option Is Right for You?
Okay, now that we have the preapproval part straight, what about the mortgage itself? Taking on a mortgage is no walk in the park. A bad choice here can turn your biggest asset into a liability. That’s why getting the right mortgage is so important! If you set boundaries on the front end, it’s easier to find a home you love that’s in your budget.
Here are the guidelines recommended:
- A fixed-rate conventional loan.With this option, your interest rate is secure for the life of the loan, protecting you from rising rates.
- A 15-year term.Your monthly mortgage payment will be higher with a 15-year term than it would be with a 30-year mortgage, but you’ll knock out your mortgage in half the time and save thousands of dollars in interest.
You set your max budget, saved up your down payment, and even got preapproved for a mortgage. What a rock star!
Find your Realtor
Now it’s time to find a home. Right?
Hold up! You’re about to enter the real estate realm. There’s no telling how many unknowns are out there waiting to snag you and your money. After all, a house could be your biggest financial asset, and you want to make the most of your investment. Don’t do this alone!
Sure, you can fill your brain with everything there is to know about a home purchase until your head explodes. But nothing compares to the ongoing support of an expert who works in the real estate field every day. You need an expert who knows how to find you the best deal on the house of your dreams.
You need a real estate agent!
Why Work With a Real Estate Agent?
Aren’t real estate agents only for people who want to sell a home? No way! There are real estate agents, called buyer’s agents, who specifically work to help you hunt down and purchase the home that’s right for you. A buyer’s agent can help you:
- Figure out what kinds of homes you can expect in your market and price range
- Find the latest home listings with up-to-date information through a multiple listing service (MLS)
- Beat competing buyers who are only searching online
- Negotiate the right price for your perfect home
How to Choose the Right Agent
You may know some real estate agents in your area, but not all of them bring the same knowledge and experience to the table. It may be tempting to hire the first agent you talk to just to save time and effort, but fight that urge! Interview at least three agents before you make a decision. A true pro brings all this to the table:
- Full-time real estate experience of at least two years
- Great communication skills
- Experience assisting first-time home buyers like you
- A super-serving attitude that makes you feel like you’re their only client
How Much Does a Buyer’s Agent Cost?
In most cases, the seller covers the commission for your buyer’s agent, so you get all the benefits for free! In fact, a good agent will actually save you money. Your agent will put their negotiation skills to work to get the best price and the sweetest deal.
Navigating the Market With a Pro
It’s difficult to predict what will happen with the housing market. Even if you already have some experience buying a home, things can change rapidly from one month to the next. And what’s happening in the Arizona housing market might be quite different from what’s going on in Iowa. But if you work with an experienced real estate agent to navigate the trends in your area, you’ll stay on track with your home-buying plan!
Helping You Buy a Home in Any Season
Think nobody’s going to sell you their home during the cold months of winter? Wrong! Sure, back in the day before the internet, the change of seasons dictated the real estate market. But now, with 24/7 access to property listings, serious home buyers are always on the lookout as they scroll through the latest listings on their phone during their kid’s hockey game or browse on their tablet before bed. Today’s home sellers know you’re out there and ready to buy no matter the season. So don’t feel like you need to wait for spring. Now might be the best time to get an awesome deal on a home you’ll love!
Choose the Right Neighborhood
Now that you’ve got an experienced real estate agent on your side, you’re finally ready to start house hunting with confidence!
Create a Must-Have List
Before you dive into your search, create a list of must-have home features. If you’re buying a home with your spouse, make separate lists and compare—you know, to smooth out potential squabbles.
Once you’ve made a list of features you both want, share it with your real estate agent and use it as the foundation for your home search. This way, your agent will know your nonnegotiables and can help you find your dream home in an area you can afford.
Don’t Mix Must-Haves With Nice-to-Haves
Be careful not to confuse things you need with things you want! Sure, it’d be nice to have a house with a beautiful bathroom and perfect color combos. But don’t let an ugly, lime-green bathroom keep you from an otherwise great home in a perfect location. Some buyers may not be able to look past easy-to-fix details like décor and paint color—and that could score you a deal. That lime-green bathroom might mean more green in your pocket!
Focus on Location
Okay, now that you know your must-haves, your next home search priority is to find a location. A good location will make your home even more valuable in the future, and a great neighborhood can turn a nice house into a special family home.
So what’s a good location? Generally, a neighborhood where you’d like to live is probably a neighborhood where lots of people would like to live—whether you’re a twentysomething buying a condo in a swanky part of the city or a family looking for a two-story house with a big backyard in the suburbs.
Personal preferences aside, upscale urban areas and family neighborhoods share common traits that make them good places to buy a home. Here are some things to look for when scoping out the location for your new home:
- Easy access.Most people don’t want to spend a lot of time driving to work, school or shopping centers. You don’t have to live right next to a business center, but it should be easy to get to important places. Other pluses include nearby libraries, parks and public transportation.
- Good school districts.Obviously, schools are important if you have (or plan to have) kids. But even if you don’t, choosing a location near a high-scoring school district usually means more money in the bank when it’s time to sell your home. Most states provide test score information online, so take the time to research schools in the area where you want to buy.
- Solid reputation.A neighborhood’s reputation is based on several factors, including the crime rate and how well the residents maintain their homes. You can research crime rates online and drive through the neighborhood to see how your potential neighbors care for their homes.
Think of the Future
Even if you believe you’re buying your forever home, you should shop with resale value in mind. Make sure the home you purchase has room to grow in value. Buy the least expensive home in the best neighborhood you can afford. Why? Because future buyers who are shopping in a $200,000 neighborhood won’t be looking for a $300,000 home.
Pay attention to what’s happening in the community where you’re looking to buy. Are home values rising or declining? Are businesses booming or closing? Will the area be attractive to buyers several years down the road? If new homes are being built in the area, that’s a good sign growth will continue. But be careful. You don’t want the area to develop into a business district with your home in the middle. That’d be awkward.
Take Your Time to Do This Right
It can seem like a lot to remember, but don’t worry! You have a real estate pro to guide you through the parts you forget. And don’t be surprised if it takes you around 10 weeks before you find the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood. Be patient. You need to do this right. If you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to finding an affordable house that’s the best fit for you and your family.
Making an Offer
Okay, now you’re getting really close to the finish line. You’re probably exhausted after weeks of driving to open houses and repeatedly scrolling through every real estate app known to man.
But all that searching has finally paid off because you feel like you’ve found the one. This house checks all the right boxes: It fits within your budget, it’s in a great neighborhood, and it even has that white picket fence you’ve always dreamed about. It’s time to make an offer the seller can’t refuse!
Step 1: Get the Price Right
Think you can save money on an agent’s commission by making the offer on your own? That’s a classic rookie mistake–and it could be a costly one! A good real estate agent has knowledge and experience in this area that can save you thousands on a home purchase. By working together with an agent, you can submit a solid offer that’ll grab the seller’s attention.
Your agent can provide you with a comparative market analysis on listings and sale prices for homes in the neighborhood where you’re planning to buy. If comparable homes are selling for 5% less than their listing prices, you can reasonably offer 8–10% less than the listing price and leave yourself room to negotiate.
Your agent will guide you through this part, but make sure you listen to their advice. If the market is slow, you could get a deal by making a low offer. But if it’s a seller’s market, other hungry buyers could quickly outbid you. And that’s exactly why you should work with a professional agent!
Step 2: Submit the Offer
Once you’ve settled on a price, your agent will help you fill out a sales and purchase agreement. It’s basically a legal document that includes all the terms and conditions of the deal, along with important details like:
- Buyer and seller information
- Address of the property
- Closing date
- Purchase price, lender information and down payment amount
- Earnest money deposit amount (which can be used toward your down payment or closing costs)
- Items to be left with the home (like appliances or furniture)
- Contingencies (like home inspection, appraisal and final mortgage approval)
Once that’s complete, you’ll send the form over to the seller. Remember: Your offer is a legally binding contract. That’s another reason to work with a pro who can make sure to dot the i’s and cross the t’s correctly. A mistake in this document could cost you big time!
Agreeing on terms can sometimes be quick and painless, but it can also be one of the most difficult parts of the process. If you end up in a bidding war with other buyers, don’t panic. Keep a cool head and put your best foot forward.
Negotiate the Best Price and More
It would be awesome to turn in an offer, have the seller accept it word for word, then live happily ever after. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.
The reality is sellers usually come back with a counter offer that changes or adds to the terms of your offer. And that means it’s time to negotiate!
This is when working with a real estate agent really pays off. Your agent will help you understand how the counter offer affects you and, if necessary, help you develop a counter offer of your own.
If you play your cards right, negotiating the purchase contract can save you thousands of dollars not only on the price of the home, but also in valuable amenities. That sounds like a fairy-tale ending to us!
When You Get a Counter Offer
No matter what you’re negotiating for, you always want to start from a position of strength. You’ll have the high ground in home-buying negotiations if you:
- Are a cash buyer
- Have been preapproved (not just prequalified) for a mortgage
- Don’t have to sell your current house before you buy
If your negotiations get intense, remind yourself that both parties want the same thing: The seller wants to sell their home, and you want to buy it. Sometimes it pays to compromise on small details to keep moving forward, and a good real estate agent can give you advice about when to give in and when to stand firm.
Understand Walk-Away Power
You know how they say predators can sense fear in their prey? In the same way, a seller can sense if you’re desperate to buy their house–and they’ll often take advantage of it.
That’s why you always need to be prepared to walk away from a deal. Until both sides sign an agreement, either party can reject the offer and end all negotiations. Sometimes it’s just a bluff, but other times it’s best to walk away and live to buy another day—without regrets!
Unfortunately, some sketchy real estate people will wait until you sit down to sign the closing papers before they try to change a deal on you. Why? Because they know you’re emotionally committed to the home and probably won’t back out at that point. The sad part is they’re usually right. It’s dangerous to get too attached to a house before you sign on the dotted line.
Give and Take
Here’s a little home-buying secret: There’s much more to negotiating than simply wrestling over the price. As a buyer, you can negotiate anything. All you have to do is ask! Sellers are often eager to make their deal as attractive to buyers as possible, so you might be surprised at what they’ll agree to.
In exchange for paying their full asking price, maybe you can ask the seller to throw in a washer and dryer. Do you see something that needs to be fixed or replaced? Push for them to pay for repairs. Everything from a new paint job to furniture is fair game. Use your imagination!
You might have to pay a slightly higher price than you originally planned, but you can get something of value in return, too. Just remember not to get too hung up on minor details (like paint colors and carpeting) during the overall home-buying process.
Get a Home Inspection
You’ve locked down a deal on your home. Great work! But don’t get so gung-ho about moving in that you seal the deal without knowing the house has a nasty problem or two. Big mistake! That’d be like taking a bite out of a juicy apple and finding out it’s rotten with a worm inside. Yuck!
Save yourself a lot of pain. No matter how good the deal sounds, never skip a home inspection.
What Is a Home Inspection?
During a home inspection, a professional examines the condition of the home you want to buy and helps you decide whether or not it’s worth what you agreed to pay for it. If the inspection reveals major problems with the home—like structural issues or expensive repairs—you can ask the seller to:
- Fix the problem
- Reduce the price
- Cancel the contract
Depending on the advice of your real estate agent and the age and condition of the home you’re about to buy, you might also want to get other professional evaluations like a radon test or termite inspection.
Why It’s Dumb to Skip a Home Inspection
Think it’ll annoy the seller if you ask for a home inspection? Don’t worry. It’d actually be pretty weird if the seller tried to skip it. In fact, it’s standard procedure to make your offer contingent or contractually dependent on the results of a home inspection. If the findings are bad, the contract is broken and you’re no longer obligated to buy.
If the homeowner isn’t willing to do a home inspection, they’re probably hiding something. WALK AWAY.
How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?
The buyer pays for the home inspection when it’s performed, and that’s usually between the time the seller accepts your offer and the day you close. How much will it cost you? That depends on factors like the location and characteristics of the home, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates a typical range might be $300–500. That may sound steep, but it’s worth paying a few hundred dollars to avoid a costly surprise down the road!
How to Find a Good Inspector
Your real estate agent will probably be able to recommend a home inspector. If you’d rather choose your own, be aware that only about half the states in the U.S. have licensing or certification requirements. In either case, make sure your inspector has plenty of experience.
Remember how we said it’s standard to make your offer contingent on a home inspection? Well, that’s not the only contingency that should be on your mind. Here are a couple more contingencies you should know about so you don’t get stuck with a bad deal or a delayed closing date:
- Appraisal: If you’re getting a home loan, your lender will require an appraisal. This is when a professional appraiser takes a look at the house you’re buying to estimate its fair market value, and it protects you from paying more than what the home is worth. If the appraisal comes in lower than your offer price, check with your real estate agent for guidance about what to do next.
- Final Mortgage Approval: This is when your lender plunges into the depths of your finances to finalize your mortgage. Whatever you do, don’t open a new credit account, take on more debt, or change jobs once you’re under contract. Any changes to your income and overall financial situation can jeopardize your loan process.
Whoa. Can you feel it? Your journey is almost over. These last few chapters are designed to prepare you for closing, the final step in the home-buying process. Ready? Get set. Go!
Close on Your House
You did it! All the planning, house hunting and waiting are over. But before you get the keys to your new home and officially call it your own, you’ll face one final opponent: closing day.
The Battle of Pen and Paper
That’s right. A battle is coming. It’s a battle between you and your closing documents. But don’t worry. You’ll win! At least three business days before closing, your lender must send you a Closing Disclosure. This form lists all the final terms of your loan like closing costs, how much cash you’ll need to bring to closing, and the details of who pays and receives the money. Then there won’t be any surprises on closing day—when the house legally becomes yours.
If there are any confusing terms or conditions as you work through the paperwork, don’t be shy about asking questions! This is one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make, and you should know exactly what you’re signing up for.
What to Bring on Loan signing Day
To make sure everything runs smoothly, you’ll need to bring a few things to your closing/Notary signing appointment. Luckily, your Escrow company representative and mortgage loan officer will provide a checklist of everything you’ll need. This list typically includes:
- Photo identification
- Outstanding documents or paperwork for the title company or mortgage loan officer
- Certified or cashier’s check made payable to the title or closing company for closing costs that aren’t deducted from the sales price
What Happens on Loan Signing Day?
If you bring everything you need on signing day, get ready for a John Hancock party! Here’s what to expect:
- You’ll pay any remaining closing costs listed in your Closing Disclosure.
- The seller will sign documents to transfer property ownership to you.
- You’ll sign lots of forms including a:
- Settlement statement listing all costs related to the home sale,
- Mortgage note stating your promise to repay the loan, and
- Mortgage or deed of trust securing the mortgage note.
- The title company will register the new deed in your name.
It sounds simple, but be prepared for a ton of paperwork!
You Own a House!
Once you’ve survived closing day, breathe a sigh of relief. You’re officially a homeowner. Wait! What? That’s right. You own a house! Congratulations! Jump for joy! Let the confetti fall! You worked hard for this. The home-buying process may not have been easy, but having a beautiful new home to call your own is worth it in the end.
Pro Tip: Stop Paying Too Much for Insurance!
One final note: Sometime before closing day, you’ll need to look into getting homeowner’s insurance. This is a great chance to check and see if any of your existing insurance policies can be bundled with homeowner’s insurance for better rates.
If you are ready to transition into homeownership, feel free to contact me so we can go over your goals, walk through the buying process from start to finish, make sure you’re prepared financially, and create a winning strategy!