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 working with a recommended local lender, who understands the local market (dirt roads) and uses local appraisers. You’ll want a lender who is available also out of normal business hours.

Your lender will start by getting a full picture of your credit. If your credit isn’t perfect, they’ll give you direction on how to fix it. Make sure the facts are correct, and fix any problems you find. This will put you in a better position to make a serious offer when you do find the right house.

Find a house you can afford.

Talk with your lender and your agent to determine what you can afford. There are valuable tools to help and too many ever-changing products – use the professionals.

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. Finding a house is the easy part! That’s why you’re better off using a professional agent than going it alone. Always have an “Exclusive Right to Buy” agreement with your agent – with this, your Agent promises to represent you with the “utmost loyalty, advocacy and fidelity”.

Do your homework.

Before making a bid, ask your Agent to 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 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 few 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 line. When it comes to the house itself, you should hire your own home inspector, who can point out potential problems that could require costly repairs in the future.