Just about the most fun you can have is to dive into house shopping on the internet. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon, and every once in a while, I do a quick search and get dreamy eyed and excited about houses that are on the market. It's wonderful - all those possibilities waiting out there...
Some women window shop for clothes. I window shop for houses.
If you're moving beyond the "window shopping" phase, however, you owe it to yourself to call a reliable mortgage broker or bank and get pre-approved so that you know how much you can afford. Now, sometimes it will be a welcome surprise, and others a reality check. At the end of the day, though, real estate is best faced with a dose of reality.
There is nothing more heartbreaking than falling in love with a house and then finding out you cannot afford it. Really. It's devastating, and it instantly takes all the fun out of what should be a very joyful process. Instead, you find something you love, only to have it ripped away from you. You start to think, "I'll never find another house as great as that one." It's the "one that got away" syndrome, and you'll build that house up to the epitome of every dream you've ever had, whether it actually is or not.
Secondly, it makes all the houses in your price range look bad. And they aren't. No matter what the price range: a great $200,000 house cannot compete with a $250,000 house. A fabulous $1,000,000 house cannot compete with a $1,250,000 house. It doesn't mean the house is less than, or a junker. But you've spoiled your perception of a good house by unfairly comparing it to houses to which it has no business being compared. Apples to Apples, folks. It's the only way to find the best of the bushel.
I know many people say REALTORS push Buyers to get pre-approved because they don't want to "waste their time" with unqualified Buyers. The truth is that I want you to enjoy your experience, to appreciate what you can afford, and to be happy (and on good financial footing) at the end of the process. Let's have fun, not heartache!