Zillow-logo-earnings-cbc4a7If you are in the process of saving to buy a house for the first-time, I have a few words of advice for you.

I became a first-time home buyer in 2009. After reading a few books about the value of investing in a home and how to build wealth through these activities, the long-term gains of home buying made me pretty confident about diving deeper into debt.

Little did I know, however, that when it came to things like understanding the housing market, comparing homes and realizing the additional financial commitments that go along with owning a home, I was completely clueless.

To help you avoid this same feeling, here are my three reasons for using Zillow – an online real estate database – to educate and better prepare yourself to become a smart first-time home owner.

Accurately predict your monthly payment

It should be said that just because you are approved for a mortgage of a certain size, it   doesn’t mean you should look for a home at the top of that range. While it’s great to have options when looking at homes, don’t forget to calculate the other costs associated with a monthly mortgage payment, namely taxes and other maintenance costs so that you truly know what you can afford. An easy way to find this information is through Zillow’s monthly payment calculator to understand the accounting that goes into your payment. Zillow’s calculator clearly illustrates how principal, interest, taxes, home owners insurance and mortgage insurance all add up.

TIP: No one wants to be house poor. Take the time to understand what your actual payment will be. Add to this figure your other monthly expenses such as utilities, cable TV and groceries to see if you can actually afford to buy the home. When in doubt, play it safe instead of purchasing a home at the top end of your budget.

You’ll gain a better understanding of the local housing market

As you begin searching for and visiting available homes, your real estate agent will send you the addresses of listings to check out online.  Instead of simply looking at the list price, use Zillow’s “local info” tab to learn more about the home and surrounding area. The local information provided includes an area overview of the surrounding for sale listings, area demographics, recent photos and school information. Everything I wish I knew prior to purchasing my home.

TIP: Don’t be a casual house hunter. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt is serious business. Make sure you are aware of everything that may impact you, your home and your investment. Zillow’s “local info” tab provides all the information you’ll wish you had.

Keep up with the Joneses

The Zillow website also allows you to enter a specific home address and receive a wealth of information about that home. One feature to pay special attention to is the neighborhood view.  Here you can see the estimated home values for the surrounding homes in the neighborhood. This is a great feature for understanding how this one house compares with the others in the neighborhood.

TIP: Use the Zillow value estimate to help you and your real estate agent prepare a well-conceived offer to get the best deal possible when purchasing a home.

From finding a home, learning about the area and understanding the finances, Zillow provides you with everything you need so that you can go from being lost on the financial highway to preparing to become a successful professional, getting rich slowly and living the good life in control of your finances.

Bonus TIP: Download Zillow’s mobile app so that when you’re visiting homes or attending open houses you can easily pull up this information on the go!