Saving up to afford a down payment on a new house is only part of the story.
Spend a month or two monitoring your expenses and determine how much of your monthly income will go toward your mortgage payments, said Kearns.
Cash flow is key to determining whether successful homeownership is within your reach.
Your housing expenses, including principal and interest payments on the mortgage, plus taxes and insurance, generally should account for no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income.
This is known as the "front-end, debt-to-income ratio," and it's a rule of thumb for most lenders.
At the same time, you should be mindful of your "back-end ratio" — or the monthly payment for all of your debt, including student loans, credit cards and your mortgage.
Altogether, servicing these debts generally shouldn't take up more than 36 percent of your gross monthly income.
In addition to the monthly cost of your mortgage, taxes and homeowner's insurance, don't forget your utility bills, said Kearns.