For most people, buying a home is the largest financial and (outside of marriage) emotional commitment they will ever make. It is crucial to approach the buying process armed with the knowledge and information a decision this important deserves.

It’s vital you carefully vet the right agent, know your area’s real estate market and understand the home buying process. It starts with picking the agent who’s the right fit for you. This goes beyond choosing a “nice” person. While it’s important you get along with your agent, you need more than someone with a pleasant demeanor. You need to pick a person who’ll work tirelessly to find you just the right home, and is committed to negotiating the best possible price and terms. Don’t choose an agent based on the great headshot on a bus bench ad, or because he went to high school with your Uncle Bernie. Do your homework, meeting with several agents until you find one with a proven track record of putting people in the home of their dreams.

You should also research your local real estate market. How are things are things looking for homes in your city? How are prices trending? Have things recovered from the downturn most of us experienced a few years ago? Are homes in your area retaining their value? If you have children, ask about the schools in the neighborhoods you’re considering. This is one of your most important considerations when it comes to choosing a neighborhood and a new home. Take the time to make sure you get this one right. In addition to conducting your own research, rely on the knowledge of your realtor. He or she should be able to answer your questions, or steer you in the right direction to find the information you need to make a knowledgeable decision.

Don’t neglect one of the most important aspects of the entire buying process: how you’re going to pay for your new home. It’s smart to work with a lender or mortgage broker before you choose a house, to see what kind of loan you qualify for. In some areas, a pre-approval letter is a prerequisite before you will be taken seriously as a buyer. Knowing how much you can afford to spend will help you zero in on just the right neighborhood. Ideally, you should begin the pre-approval process as soon as you’ve chosen you, agent – this will give you plenty of time to resolve any issues you hadn’t planned on, such as inaccuracies in your credit report that could affect your borrowing ability.

Once you and your agent have chosen a house, it’s time to bring on the paperwork. You’ll need to carefully review the disclosures that the seller and their agent present. These disclosures will include key documents, like property and pest inspections and a title report. Make sure you completely understand everything; it’s vital that you don’t sign any document until you understand what it says. This is where your due diligence in choosing an agent will pay off – they should understand what all this paperwork means and be able to answer any questions you’ll have.

The bottom line: if you choose your agent carefully, research and understand the real estate market, choose your new home carefully and obtain proper financing, the house buying process should be a great one for you. In the end, all that hard work will pay off, when you and your family move in to your new home.