Image: Sold home © Ryan McVaym, Digital Vision, Getty Images

Are you gearing up to buy your first place? Shopping for a home is exciting, exhausting and a little scary, especially in this market. In the end, your aim is to end up with a home you love at a price you can afford. Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, many people make mistakes that prevent them from achieving that simple dream. Arm yourself with these tips to get the most out of your purchase and avoid making 10 of the most costly mistakes that could put a hold on that sold sign.

1. Not knowing what you can afford

As we learned from the subprime mortgage mess, what the bank says you can afford and what you know you can afford or are comfortable with paying are not necessarily the same. If you don't already have a budget, make a list of all your monthly expenses (excluding rent), including vehicle costs, student loan payments, credit card payments, groceries, health insurance, retirement savings and so on. Don't forget major expenses that occur only once a year, like any insurance premiums you pay annually or annual vacations. Subtract this total from your take-home pay and you'll know how much you can spend on your new home each month.

If you end up looking at homes that are outside your price range, you'll end up lusting after something you can't afford, which can put you in the dangerous position of trying to stretch beyond your means financially or cause you to feel unsatisfied with what you actually can afford. You may even learn that you can't afford the type or size of home that you desire and that you need to work on reducing your monthly expenses and/or increasing your income before you even start looking.

2. Skipping mortgage qualification

What you think you can afford and what the bank is willing to lend you may not match up, especially if you have poor credit or unstable income, so make sure to get preapproved for a loan before placing an offer on a home. You'll be wasting the seller's time, the seller's agent's time and your agent's time if you sign a contract and discover later that the bank won't lend you what you need or that it won't give you a mortgage you find acceptable.

Be aware that even if you have been preapproved for a mortgage, your loan can fall through if you do something to alter your credit score, like finance a car purchase. If you cause the deal to fall through, you may have to forfeit the money that you put up when you went under contract.

3. Failing to consider additional expenses

Once you're a homeowner, you'll have additional expenses on top of your monthly payment. Unlike when you were a renter, you'll be responsible for paying property taxes, insuring your home against disasters and making any repairs the house needs (which will occasionally include expensive items like replacing the roof or furnace).

If you purchase a condo, you'll have to pay monthly maintenance costs regardless of whether anything needs fixing because you'll be part of a homeowners association, which collects monthly fees from the owners of each unit in the form of condominium fees.

4. Being too picky

Go ahead and put everything you can think of on your wish list, but don't be so inflexible that you end up continuing to rent for significantly longer than you really want to. First-time homebuyers often have to compromise on something because their funds are limited. You may have to live on a busy street, accept outdated decor, make some repairs to the home or forgo that extra bedroom. Of course, you can always choose to continue renting until you can afford everything on your list -- you'll just have to decide how important it is for you to become a homeowner now rather than in a couple of years.

5. Lacking vision

Even if you can't afford to replace the hideous wallpaper in the bathroom now, it might be worth it to live with the ugliness for a while in exchange for getting into a house you can afford. If the home meets your needs in terms of the big things that are difficult to change, such as location and size, don't let physical imperfections turn you away. Besides, doing home upgrades yourself, even if you have to hire a contractor, is often cheaper than paying the increased home value to a seller who has already done the work for you.