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

Getyour finances in order.

Start by getting a full pictureof your credit. Obtain copies of your credit report. Make sure the facts arecorrect, and fix any problems you find. Next, find a suitable lender and getpre-approved for a loan. This will put you in a better position to make aserious offer when you do find the right house.

Find ahouse you can afford.

As with engagement rings,there’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to buying a home: two-and-a-halftimes your annual salary. There are also a number of tools and calculatorsonline that can help you understand how your income, debt, and expenses affectwhat you can afford. Don’t forget, too, that there are lots of considerationsbeyond the sticker price, including property taxes, energy costs, etc.

Hire aprofessional.

While the Internet gives buyersunprecedented access to home listings and resources, many aspects of the buyingprocess require a level of expertise you can’t pick up from surfing the web.That’s why you’re better off using a professional agent than going it alone. Ifpossible, recruit an exclusive buyer agent, who will have your interests atheart and can help you with strategies during the bidding process.

Do yourhomework.

Before making a bid, do someresearch to determine the state of the market at large. Is it more favorablefor sellers or buyers? Next, look at sales trends of similar homes in the areaor neighborhood. Look at prices for the last few months. Come up with an askingprice that’s competitive, but also realistic. Otherwise, you may end up tickingoff your seller.

Thinklong term.

Obviously, you shouldn’t buyunless 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 childrenor 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, whocan point out potential problems that could require costly repairs in thefuture.