You’ve decided the time is right to buy a home and you’re ready to start shopping. Here are five essential tips for making the process as smooth as possible.

Get your finances in order. In today’s seller’s market, it’s never been more important for a buyer to be able to put their best foot forward when making an offer on a home! Start by getting a full picture of your credit by obtaining a copy of your credit report, make sure the facts are correct, and fix any problems you find. *Next, find a suitable lender and get pre-approved for a loan. This will put you in a better position to make a serious offer when you do find the right house. Now you might have noticed that I didn’t say pre-qualified? That’s because the term “pre-approval” signifies much more to today’s savvy home seller than does the term “pre-qualified” and believe it or not, a buyer’s ability to get funding for a loan can often have more weight (to the seller) than the actual dollar amount of the offer itself.

Find a house you can afford. This one seems obvious enough, but as with engagement rings, there’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to buying a home: two-and-a-half times your annual salary. There are also a number of tools and calculators online (including this website right here) that can help you understand how your income, debt, and expenses affect what you can afford. Don’t forget, too, that there are lots of considerations beyond the sticker price (including property taxes, energy costs, and other items) that can help determine what price range you should be focusing your search on.

Hire a professional. While the Internet gives buyers unprecedented access to home listings and resources nowadays, many aspects of the buying process require a level of expertise you simply can’t pick up from surfing the web. That’s why you’re better off using a *professional advocate/agent than going it alone. After all, much of the work that’s involved with the process of buying and selling a home comes after the initial sales agreement has been entered into by both parties. If possible, recruit an exclusive agent, who will have your interests at heart and can help you with strategies during the bidding process (and everything that comes after.

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? Well. here in Oregon we know the answer to that question right now, but as a rule, it’s still always prudent to look at sales trends of similar homes in the area or neighborhood. Look at prices for the last few months and come up with an offer that’s competitive, but also realistic. Otherwise, you may just end up ticking off the seller.

Think long term (investment). Staying put in your new home (for at least a few years) is a commonly recommended practice. This gives you time to address any shortcomings the home may have in an organic fashion, and it also allows for you to gain some equity in the property (due to generally rising market values). Beyond that, you’ll always be well served by buying in a neighborhood with good schools (whether you have children or not), because this will have an impact on your new home’s resale value down the line. When it comes to the house itself, you should always pay close attention to the findings of your home inspector, who can point out potential problems that could require costly repairs in the future.

Be prepared for action! There’s just no other way to put it, because in today’s seller’s market, it’s crucial that you know the playbook (especially first time home buyers). Currently, the market does not allow for long periods of contemplation or gamesmanship when it comes to desirable listings. If you like the home, there’s a good chance that several other people have seen it and like it too and are very well preparing to make an offer that day. That being said, if you’re committed, prepared, and ready to seize your opportunity when it finds you, you’ll often be rewarded.

*Don’t have a helpful lender on speed dial? My resources include several hard working & highly regarded lenders with whom you can speak). Want access to home search resources that aren’t available to the general public or just want another set of eyes helping you with your search? I can help with that (so please feel free to get in touch)!

Edited by Chad Meier (Real Estate Broker with Keller Williams Portland Central).

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.