Looking to buy a home? Here are five essential tips for making the process as 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 a great lender (I know a number of them and would be happy to refer you to one) and get fully pre-approved for a loan. Sometimes it can take a week or longer to do it well so don’t wait till the last minute. Homes come and go quickly so this will put you in the best position to make a serious offer when you do find the right house.

Find a house you can afford.

What a lender can qualify you for and what monthly payments you’re comfortable with are usually two different things. You don’t want to be “house poor” the rest of your life so set your max price at a level that fits within your budget. You want some money left over each month so you can do any basic home repairs, go out to eat, take a vacation, 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 pick up from surfing the web. That’s why you’re better off using a full time professional agent than going it alone. Its best to recruit an exclusive buyer agent who will have your best interests at heart and can help you with strategies to negotiate on your behalf and help you during the bidding process.The best place to start is having a Buyer’s Consultation so you can get to know your agent and they can get to know you and your home buying needs.

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 of similar homes in the area or neighborhood. Look at prices for the last few months. Come up with an asking price that’s competitive, but also realistic. Otherwise, you may end up losing your dream home.

Think long term.

Obviously, you shouldn’t buy unless you’re sure you’ll be staying put for at least a few years. In fact I recommend planning to own the home at least 5-10 years. Beyond that, you should buy in a neighborhood with good schools. Whether you have children or not, this will have an impact on your new home’s resale value down the road. When it comes to the house itself, you should hire your own home inspector, who can point out potential problems. It’s best to go into your home purchase with your eyes as wide open as possible.