Looking to buy a home in 2016? Here are five essential tips for making the process as smooth as possible.

1. Get your finances in order.

First, check your credit. Obtain copies of your credit report. Make sure the facts are correct, and fix any problems. Next, find a 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.

2. Find a house you can afford.

The general rule of thumb when it comes to buying a home is that the price of the home should be approximately two-and-a-half times your annual salary. There are also a number of tools and calculators online that can help you understand how your income, debt, and expenses affect what you can afford. Don’t forget, that there are lots of considerations beyond the actual price, including property taxes, energy costs, etc.

3. Hire a professional.

While you can certainly find home listings and resources, many aspects of the buying process require a level of expertise. You’re better off using a professional agent. You may also save yourself money and heartache! An agent can help leap many hurdles.

4. Do your homework.

Do some research to determine the state of the market at large. Is it more favorable for sellers or buyers? 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.

5. Think long term.

You really 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.