Looking to buy a home? Here are five essential tips for making the processas smooth as possible.

Get your finances in order.

Start by getting a full picture of your credit. Obtain copies of your creditreport. Make sure the facts are correct, and fix any problems you find. Next,find a suitable lender and get pre-approved for a loan. This will put you in abetter position to make a serious offer when you do find the right house.

Find a house you can afford.

As with engagement rings, there’s a general rule of thumb when it comes tobuying a home: two-and-a-half times your annual salary. There are also a numberof tools and calculators online that can help you understand how your income,debt, and expenses affect what you can afford. Don’t forget, too, that thereare lots of considerations beyond the sticker price, including property taxes,energy costs, etc.

Hire a professional.

While the Internet gives buyers unprecedented access to home listings andresources, many aspects of the buying process require a level of expertise youcan’t pick up from surfing the web. That’s why you’re better off using aprofessional agent than going it alone. If possible, recruit an exclusive buyeragent, who will have your interests at heart and can help you with strategiesduring the bidding process.

Do your homework.

Before making a bid, do some research to determine the state of the marketat large. Is it more favorable for sellers or buyers? Next, look at salestrends of similar homes in the area or neighborhood. Look at prices for thelast few months. Come up with an asking price that’s competitive, but alsorealistic. Otherwise, you may end up ticking off your seller.

Think long term.

Obviously, you shouldn’t buy unless you’re sure you’ll be staying put for atleast a few years. Beyond that, you should buy in a neighborhood with goodschools. Whether you have children or not, this will have an impact on your newhome’s resale value down the line. When it comes to the house itself, youshould hire your own home inspector, who can point out potential problems thatcould require costly repairs in the future.