Get pre-approved. Very few people have enough cash to buy their first home without a mortgage. Most need financing to afford today’s home prices.

QUESTION: What are some milestones I need to attain in order to buy a home? I want to buy a home this year, but it seems like it is such a daunting process. Is there a checklist of things I need to do?

ANSWER: A very good question: How do you know when you are ready to buy your first home? As you mentioned, there are some benchmarks you should check off in order to know you are ready to enter the housing market.

First, are you planning to stay in the area for several years? When you buy a home, it rarely makes sense - financial, emotional or otherwise - to stay in the area less than five years. Longer is better.

If you sell in less than five years, you will most likely not break even. If your job feels stable and you are prepared to stay in one place several years, you might be ready to buy.

Get pre-approved. Very few people have enough cash to buy their first home without a mortgage. Most need financing to afford today’s home prices.

Make an appointment to see a mortgage professional and get pre-approved. This will help you know what price range to look in, and enable you to move quickly when you find the right home. The pre-approval process is no different for first timers than experienced borrowers. You will need tax returns, proof of income, bank statements and good credit.

If your credit is not up to snuff, then you need to postpone your desire to buy a home while you do some repair work on your credit. This is a column in itself.

Another checklist item is a realistic time frame. A time frame that is too long doesn’t make sense. Neither does a time frame that is too short. For example, if your lease doesn’t expire for many months, or you need to move in a month, buying a home might not be practical.

The ideal situation is to be ready to buy and able to wait, especially if your local housing market is heating up. You need both a realistic time frame and expectations.

Another important milestone is a sizeable nest egg. First time homebuyers need not only a good amount of savings for a down payment, but also an extra amount to cover closing costs, moving expenses and an emergency fund. Many homebuyers forget there is a lot of maintenance and upkeep to owning a home.

Finally, are you emotionally ready to buy a home? Buying a home is not as easy as HGTV makes it out to be – look at three homes and choose one. Being realistic about the time, money, effort and setbacks you may encounter is an important milestone in knowing you are ready to enter the housing market.

Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and out of Darkness.” Email her at: lrgoodspeed@comcast.net.