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In the wake of the financial crisis and recession, many people’s opinions of homeownership have changed, but the majority of Americans (88%) consider it a part of the American Dream, according to a survey from NeighborWorks America, a network of affordable housing and community development organizations. At the same time, 40% said they feel less prepared to buy a home than they were five years ago, and 12% weren’t sure.

Making smart choices while buying a home requires a fair amount of research on the consumer’s part, so it’s troubling that so many Americans expressed uncertainty about the process. The data resulted from a nationally representative survey of 1,000 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Before house hunting, it’s a good idea to take stock of your credit profile, because credit history and scores are large factors in determining interest rates and whether you can get a mortgage. In addition to reviewing credit reports, it’s smart to look at your credit scores, which will give you an idea of what mortgage lenders will see when they process your loan application.

Credit reports can alert potential homeowners to inaccuracies and negative histories, and credit scores give you an idea of how you stack up (i.e. is your credit good, fair, poor, etc.). Credit.com’s Credit Report Card is a free tool that will show how you’re doing in five areas that affect credit scores.

Most of the survey respondents were homeowners, and of the 28% who were renters, only 42% said they were considering buying a home in the next year. Among all respondents 75% said the homebuying process is complicated, and 87% of renters who are not considering buying a home also said so.

In addition to the perceived obstacle of a complex purchase process, renters listed other reasons they’re not looking to buy: Twenty percent said they didn’t think they could afford a neighborhood they’d like to live in, 17% said they didn’t have a down payment, 14% cited a lack of job security (14% of owners also expressed this concern) and 13% said they have weak or bad credit. Only 4% of owners said credit issues presented an obstacle to buying a house.

Seeking out resources on homeownership and improving credit would likely make a difference for those intimidated by the process. But people most frequently turn first to friends and family when they have questions about homeownership (39% said that would be their top resource, and an Internet search was the next-common answer, at 17%).

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