Are you 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 credit report.Make sure the facts are correct, and fix any problems you find. Next, find asuitable lender and get pre-approved for a loan. This will put you in a betterposition 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 to buying ahome: two-and-a-half times your annual salary. There are also a number of toolsand calculators online that can help you understand how your income, debt, andexpenses affect what you can afford. Don’t forget, too, that there are lots ofconsiderations beyond the sticker price, including property taxes, energycosts, etc.

Hire a professional.

While the Internet gives buyers unprecedented access to home listings and resources,many aspects of the buying process require a level of expertise you can’t pickup from surfing the web. That’s why you’re better off using a professionalagent than going it alone. If possible, recruit an exclusive buyer agent, whowill have your interests at heart and can help you with strategies during thebidding process.

Do your homework.

Before making a bid, do some research to determine the state of the market at large.Is it more favorable for sellers or buyers? Next, look at sales trends ofsimilar homes in the area or neighborhood. Look at prices for the last fewmonths. Come up with an asking price that’s competitive, but also realistic.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 at least a fewyears. Beyond that, you should buy in a neighborhood with good schools. Whetheryou have children or not, this will have an impact on your new home’s resalevalue down the line. When it comes to the house itself, you should hire yourown home inspector, who can point out potential problems that could requirecostly repairs in the future.