If you’ve been renting and waiting to buy your first home, now is a good time to make your move.

A number of industry analysts predict that interest rates will rise slightly over the year, while continuing to stay very affordable. Home prices are also expected to rise, now that more buyers are again competing for houses for sale. 

But rental rates are rising and expected to continue to rise even more—as much as 20% in some communities—making it smart and cost-effective for first-time buyers especially to consider home ownership. Real estate website Trulia found it is cheaper to buy than to rent in each of the nation’s 100 biggest metropolitan areas.

If you’re thinking about making the big move, do this now:

* Check your credit reports for accuracy. Go to annualcreditreport.com and request your free credit report. If you find errors or omissions, fix the problems as soon as possible. You probably know that it’s important to review your credit report once each year.  This will help prevent errors that could lead to a lower credit score (and higher rates on loans), and can even protect you against identity theft. While some sites offer this service for free, Sunmark goes one step further!  Sunmark not only offers you a free credit report, but also the opportunity to review your report with one of our knowledgeable staff.

Our trusted consultants can explain each item on your credit report, which can be overwhelming to navigate on your own. In addition, because the representative you meet with has experience reviewing credit reports, they can help identify which loans or credit cards on your report might be able to be consolidated into a lower-rate loan – which can save you money and help you pay down your monthly bills more quickly. Stop at any Sunmark location for a free review of credit.

* Review your savings. You will need money for a down payment as well as for the transition expenses of moving and setting up a new house. If your savings aren’t up to snuff, make that your priority for the next several months.

Calculate your potential mortgage payment!

* Talk to a Sunmark home loan officer about prequalifying for a loan. This is the step just ahead of preapproval—it makes it possible for you to begin shopping for a house with your eyes wide open about what you can really afford. Your loan officer can help you prepare for the home buying process and help you line up your finances for success.