Beginning a home search can be a somewhat disconcerting task. Perhaps the biggest question many first time homebuyers have is where to begin the process. Some people begin by looking at real estate magazines or websites, while others call real estate agents right off the bat. The process varies.

So, what is the best way to begin your quest for a new home? In truth, any way you begin the process is a good way, because the most important thing is to get started. After all, you will learn a lot as you go. But there are some things to keep in mind:

Do the Proper Research

Buying real estate can be an overwhelming experience for the first-time buyer. But you can make the process much easier simply by understanding it. Start with the lingo. By learning the terminology associated with home buying and mortgage, you will make smarter decisions along the way.

Set Your Budget

The best way to begin looking for a home is to first sit down with a mortgage lender to determine how a high a mortgage you can afford and be approved for. Remember, there is a difference between the loan amount you can be approved for and the amount you can actually afford. So in the end, only you can determine your home buying budget — not a mortgage lender.

When dealing with a mortgage lender you will want to provide him or her with an understanding of what mortgage payment you are comfortable making so they can give you a sense of the size of the mortgage that equates to, based on your credit, income and other factors.

Taking this step first will help “frame” your home search so you are only looking at homes within your budget range. Many first time homebuyers fail to take this step and therefore waste time and energy looking at homes that are well above their budget.

You can find plenty of websites that offer mortgage calculators, and these tools are a good place to start when determining your budget. Just keep in mind that the one variable you can never predict in advance is the interest rate. Only by speaking to a lender can you get a full mortgage quote that includes the interest rate (based on your credit history).

Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

Another reason you may wish to start with speaking to a mortgage lender is so you can be prepared to show a pre-approval letter to the seller. This gives them the confidence that you can buy their home, which is especially important for homes where more than one buyer makes an offer (i.e. a seller’s market). Do not confuse pre-qualification with pre-approval. Pre-qual is an informal process in which the lender tells you how much of a mortgage you might qualify for. Pre-approval, on the other hand, is a more formal review of your finances and is likely to reflect the actual loan amount the lenders extends to you. In other words, the person selling the home will pay more attention to the pre-approval letter.

Though there is no wrong way to begin a search for a new home, meeting with a mortgage lender first may be the best way to begin your search and find your dream home. Just remember to always keep an open mind when visiting each property and envision the possibilities. You must also stay realistic about your finances and do your best not to over-extend yourself by purchasing a home beyond your means.