We hear agents and real estate pros telling us all the time, NOW is the time to buy. But is it really?How Do I Know It's Time to Buy a House?

The US Homeownership rate has declined to just under 63%. That's the lowest in the last 50 years of tracking. Although that doesn't mean doom and gloom for the real estate industry it does pose an interesting question as to the reason. It could be lack of lending practices, high prices, low wages, economic and demographic tendencies. But this doesn't mean we have to be discouraged about it. Many people set on being homeowners should feel that this is a great opportunity to get a good deal and not have the competition bogging them down in the process. 

If you haven't bought a home yet, you probably already know why. I certainly can't tell you the reasons you should or should not buy but you still might be wondering when IS a good time to buy.

If you're serious about being a homeowner one day you have to make a legitimate effort toward that direction. That could mean saving for a down payment, increasing your credit score and securing financing - probably a good mix of all three. 

What I can tell you is when not to buy a house.

If you're living paycheck to paycheck, have not saved any money, jump from job to job, have no clear idea about your next 5 years or just don't care to maintain a household, homeownership is not for you.

Okay, I know that was rough... but I don't want you to be a homeowner if you really are not ready. Neither do lenders, banks or society in general. You may actually be able to afford a home, but if you are not prepared to maintain the home or be responsible with payments, that home will likely fall into foreclosure adding to the demise of the housing market just a little more.

Now, if the only reason you're not buying is that you are scared and/or you are comfortable in your current situation, then you might want to think about the idea of being a full-fledged homeowner. There is a lot know when getting involved in the biggest purchase of your life but don't let it overwhelm you (it can do that really easily). Start with what you know. 

More: What Happens to the Earnest Money?

How much money do you have? If you don't have any money in savings, you might want to start saving for a down payment and the earnest money deposit you'll need to secure an offer on a home. $10,000 is a good amount, but there are low down payment options and even zero down payment programs but you need to know the risks involved. It's always better to have a little bit of money saved up for emergencies anyway.

Start shopping around for a good lender. Get someone you trust and feel comfortable with and it's okay to shop around. Ask about programs, options, down payment needs and what you'll need to do to be prepared to buy. You can talk to your bank, credit union or a mortgage company that specializes in home loans. 

Start preparing yourself for homeownership. A condo is a good midway option, especially if you've rented most of your adult life. A condo allows you the freedom of homeownership without all the responsibility of a house. The outside and common areas are still maintained by someone else and you are only responsible for the inside of the unit. The nice thing about starting out with a condo is that you can build some equity for a few years, sell and have a better down payment for a larger home should you choose. 

More: Things NOT to do when applying for a home loan

So, you can see I didn't tell you that "NOW is the best time to buy". Sure, rates are still low and the competition is lower than it has been in years but buying a house is still a big responsibility and we wouldn't want you owning until your ready. But if you are - Now is the time.