Lookingto buy a home? Here are five essential tips for making the process as smooth aspossible.

Get your finances in order.

Startby 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.

Aswith engagement rings, there’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to buyinga home: two-and-a-half times your annual salary. There are also a number oftools 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.

Whilethe 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.

Beforemaking 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.