If you ask me, this is a good time to buy a home providing you can afford it. If we've learned anything about the current disaster in the home-buying market, it's that buying a home you can't afford inevitably leads to disaster. And in this case, the disaster is not only in the families that are being dispossessed, but in the market at large, which affects us all. Some unwise moves on the part of government and lenders have led to a situation that is going to take a long time to get out of. On the other hand, it may work in your favor since there are lots of bargains in very nice homes right now.
How much can you afford? Be realistic here. Don't get caught up in the fever of owning a home for the first time and make a purchase that will lead not to happiness but disaster. Determining how much you can afford will require a careful evaluation of your entire financial situation including income, credit rating, current monthly expenses, down payment, and interest rate. The best way is to talk to a lender. As a lender, I'm prepared to help you work this out even before you start looking for a house.
Shop for a loan. Yes. Shop! Approach more than one lender. In fact, approaching several is a good idea. Find one you are comfortable with. Rate quotes usually aren't accurate as they change frequently, often two or three times in one day, so it's important to work with someone you are comfortable working with. Getting pre-approved for a loan is a good thing. It's more than a good thing – it's crucial. Many real estate agents won't take you seriously if you aren't preapproved, and it will take a lot of stress away from the home buying process if you already know that maximum loan amount you qualify for. It means you are all set once you find the house you want, and you will be able to move quickly if the circumstances demand it. There are still homes selling with multiple offers so it's even more important to have your finances lined up. It also means you won't be making decisions in a hurry and under pressure.