Spending more time at home last year has many Americans trading in their rentals for something more permanent. If owning a home is one of your goals, here are some tips to help you get started.

Create a budget for your monthly mortgage payment.

Add up what you currently spend on rent, utilities, other home expenses and the amounts you're saving for a down payment. Then consider whether additional costs like homeowner association (HOA) fees, property taxes, additional utilities or insurance needs will increase your home expenses. If there is a gap, look to reduce spending in other parts of your budget or reduce your future home costs.

Check your credit score.

A high credit score could mean the opportunity for a lower interest rate. If your score needs improvement, you may want to delay your home purchase and work on that first. You can request your credit report at annualcreditreport.com, and you may be able to get your credit score for free from your bank.

Understand how much you qualify for – and want to spend.

Meet with lenders before you start shopping to determine the loan amount you qualify for and get pre-approved. But remember, just because a lender approves you for a certain amount doesn't mean you should borrow that amount. If having an expensive home means sacrificing other priorities – like saving for a child's education  or your retirement  – you may want to rethink your home purchase budget.

Save for your down payment.

Having a down payment of more than 20% allows you to avoid paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI) in addition to your monthly loan payments. First-time home buyers may qualify for down payment assistance, so be sure to explore that option.

Plan for unexpected expenses.

Homeownership is a dream come true for many, but it can be a nightmare if you're not prepared. Appliances break. Trees fall. Drains back up. Having an emergency fund can ensure you don't tap into your long-term investments or take on debt to pay for them. Ideally, you'll want to have three to six months' worth of living expenses in your emergency fund.