If you’re starting to consider a home purchase, you might as well get ready to buy. The market is competitive and being ready will help you close the deal quickly, and not lose the home of your dreams. The seven points below will help you be ready to make an offer and buy a home this year.

1. Check Your Credit

A good credit score is your path to the best interest rate on a mortgage loan. With a score of 740 and above, home buyers can expect to save thousands of dollars per year due to lower mortgage rates. If your credit score falls a little short, it’s a good time to start repairing your credit. Some steps to take include paying bills on time, repairing any potential errors on your credit report, and asking for a credit line increase on any open credit you have available. It is important to remember that you don’t want to max out your credit; make sure you’re using only 30 percent, or less, of any available credit you have.

2. Suggest Financial Gifts

Buying a house requires a down payment, closing, and of course moving costs. You may be able to build up your nest egg by asking for financial gifts for birthdays and other occassions. It is also a good idea to set aside a fund for any unexpected thigs, like repairs. Nearly half of millennials incurred up to $5,000 in unexpected costs during the mortgage process. Start and beef up an emergency fund so you’re ready.  And while it might be tempting to use your tax refund for a well-deserved vacation, that refund is an easy way to contribute to your down payment. Tuck it away and be ready when you find your dream home.

3. Avoid Credit Card Offers

While saving 20% on upcoming purchases sound like a great idea, grabbing those new credit cards can potentially hurt your chances of getting a better rate on your mortgage loan. Adding a new line of credit can alter any pending application and potentially jeopardize your application process. While you may be saving a few dollars right now, it may cost you a much greater amount down the line if you end up with a higher interest rate on your mortgage. Especially during the holidays, it is important to avoid impulse purchases and offers.

4. Research Local Real Estate Agents

When it’s time to buy a home it seems that everyone has a realtor to recommend. And while that person may end up being the perfect fit for you, it’s wise to shop around and get to know the realtors in your market. Look for a realtor who is truly knowledgeable and who can assist you in attaining your goal of home ownership. Check their online reviews and ask for references. Hiring a quality realtor means you’ll likely find that home you want, and have a smooth purchase experience, too.

5. Keep an Eye on Mortgage Rates

While the home buying process can be negotiated, and closing costs vary, it is important to shop around for the lowest interest rates. Don’t always assume that you will get the lowest rate simply because rates are at historic lows. Interest rates on mortgage loans vary from one person to another. Deciding factors will include the lender you choose, and your financial profile. Talk with your realtor and lender about ways to keep your closing costs down as well.

6. Find a Lender

With websites like Trulia and Zillow, we all have easy access to browse dream homes online. Before you start browsing with intention, be sure to find a mortgage lender who can advise you on your affordability to purchase a home right now. You may want to ask someone with your banking institution for a referral. A great realtor often can refer you to a reputable lender, too. Be sure to compare at least 3 different lenders and look at costs, points, and how long it will take to close.

7. Get Pre-Approved

Pre-approval is a critical step in the home buying process. A pre-approval shows sellers that you are serious and have the means to purchase their home. The pre-approval process requires a few documents which can be prepared a few months before the actual purchase. To begin the process, you will need:

  • Two prior years of W2 forms
  • Two prior years of tax returns
  • Recent paycheck stubs (usually a few months will be sufficient)
  • Proof of rent or mortgage payments from the past year
  • A comprehensive list of debt including any alimony, credit cards, auto loans and student loans
  • A list of assets including investment accounts, real estate, bank statements and auto titles

Gather these now and get a pre-apoproval so that you’re really ready to buy when you find the home you love.