I'm looking to buy my first home and was advised to get multiple mortgage quotes from different lenders. I know that each time I do it dings my credit, so how many quotes should I get? Is it better to get them all at once or spread it out?
Getting several quotes should not affect your score. Your main concern is getting a good loan.
Consider using a Mortgage Broker. A Broker will generally have access to a long list of Mortgage lenders, insuring that you see a variety of rates and product offerings. A banker will only be able to show offerings from his / her banking institution.
You should not worry about your credit score. Getting a Mortgage quote should not heart you. Finding the best rate for you is the only thing you should care about.
When I started in the financial services industry it was as a mortgage broker. So I was often confronted with "shoppers" looking for rates. The typical question was "what's your rate?" And the truthful answer was and is "It depends."
Given the changes in the industry and more automated underwriting systems, in many cases a rate is dependent on your credit report and score. And your reported assets, income, loan-to-value and property type will all affect the interest rate quote especially because of new "risk-based" underwriting rules.
So you are right to be concerned with the credit score being affected by multiple brokers or lenders who may want permission to pull your credit report.
As noted previously, you may want to consider a mortgage broker simply because they may have access to more lenders. Your question to both a lender or broker should be who provides the end financing and how many different lenders they have access to for your type of credit and loan profile.
That being said, I will say from experience that there was nothing more frustrating than having consumers call on a Tuesday morning after house shopping all weekend and trying to compare rates from a Sunday newspaper ad not realizing that the lender/broker provided that quote on the previous Wednesday to meet the weekend publication deadline.
Consumers rarely understand that interest rates are dynamic and the best way to compare rates and terms is to base it all on the same information (credit, income, assets, property) and on the SAME DAY.
And since these rates are going to fluctuate what you really ought to be looking for is not the "best" rate but who can deliver. Unless you are prepared to lock the rate the same day you are looking, then the rate is only an indication.
And to properly compare you really need to be jotting down the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) which is meant to be used for comparison in much the same way that the UPC on the shelf at the supermarket can be used to compare products.