Have big dreams to buy a home next year, but don't know where to begin? Just because you don't think you'll have your down payment together for 2017 doesn't mean you have to wait to get a jump start on the process. Here are some steps you can take to help you figure out what you're looking for in a home, what you can afford, and how to get yourself psyched up to find your dream home while you wait.
The state of your credit will determine much of your home-buying journey, so before you do anything, make sure you know what you're working with. You're able to get a free, full copy of your credit report from all of the major nationwide credit reporting companies once a year, so request yours (if you don't know how, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has all the info you nee) and see where you stand. You'll be able to see your credit score and all the factors that affect it, so if you need to raise it, you can also start taking steps towards repairing your credit.
Once you know where you stand with your credit, start working on figuring out how much you can actually afford so you know what your price range is for potential homes. There are plenty of online calculators you can use to help you do the math (Zillow, Bankrate and NerdWallet all have you covered). You can also talk to your bank and look into getting prequalified for a mortgage so you know how much you can borrow.
Now that you know what you can afford and what price range you're looking to stay in, you can figure out how much you need to save up for a down payment, and how to do just that. Create a plan for how much you need to save each week or month towards your down payment and where you plan to save it (do you want to keep it in a separate savings account, or maybe invest it somehow?) and then stick to it so you can make your home-buying dreams come true next year.
If you've got your credit and savings plan in order, now it's time to figure out what you really want out of your new home. Start researching neighborhoods you might want to live in—along with looking at home prices, look into school systems (if you have or plan to have kids), see what resources are around (like banks, grocery stores, public transportation, etc.) and get a general feel for the areas you're interested in. If you live close enough to physically explore those neighborhoods, go visit them and see which ones feel right—then you'll know where to look when you're ready.
You may not be ready to actually buy a home yet, but you should start reading real estate listings anyway. This way, you'll be able to see what types of homes are available in your desired neighborhoods and monitor listings for homes you are interested in to see how long they stay on the market. Looking at listings and seeing what's open to you might help you decide on features you didn't know you wanted in a home, or open you up to new ideas you hadn't thought of before.
Again, you may not be ready to make an offer on a home, but attending open houses can help you survey the market and figure out what's important to you in a home—plus it will give you practice for when you're actually ready, and will help you connect with potential realtors for the future. Go to a few in neighborhoods you're interested in to see what you're working with, and by the time you're ready to start making offers, you'll be a pro.