Buying a home is a learning experience. It’s exciting, time consuming, at times frustrating, but ultimately fulfilling — that is, if you end up with the right house in the right neighborhood for the right price.

Home buying is best approached with a game plan in mind, and with the understanding that home buying is a process that takes time. It’s hard to predict how much time it will take to buy a home because there are many variables that are beyond your control.

For example, in a low-inventory area, you may have to wait for the right house. When you do find the right house, you may be ready to move quickly. But, the sellers could have another agenda.

However, there are elements of the process that you can control. The most important is to assemble your home-buying team. At a minimum, you need a mortgage broker or loan agent and the best real estate agent you can find. Working with good, reliable and conscientious people will improve the quality of your home-buying experience.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: One way to find good real estate professionals is to seek recommendations from friends and colleagues who’ve bought a home recently in an area where you want to live. Some buyers interview more than one person for the job. This enables you to compare rates and fees. However, keep in mind that rapport, particularly with your real estate agent, is essential to a satisfying transaction.

After you’ve hooked up with a trustworthy mortgage person who will give you good service, find out how much you can afford to pay for a home. Then get pre-approved for the mortgage you will need to close the deal. In order to be pre-approved, your credit needs to be checked and your financial qualifications verified.

One benefit of getting approved before you’re in contract to buy a home is that you know you have a loan commitment when you need it. Another is that you’ll have more negotiating clout with the seller. Also, if you’re buying in an area or price range where multiple offers are still prevalent, you’ll have a hard time competing unless you’re pre-approved.

The next phase of your plan is exploratory. You should have a list of the features you want and need in the home before you start your search. But, the list will be provisional until you research the inventory in the areas where you’d like to live.

For example, you may find in your top choice neighborhood of charming older homes, most of the houses have one-car garages and you’d been hoping for a two-car garage. So, you either modify your wish list or change neighborhoods to one that has newer homes with larger garages.

There are always compromises to be made when buying a home. The perfect home doesn’t exist — not at any price. It takes some time to learn what the inventory in an area has to offer so that you can decide how you’ll be willing to compromise.

While you’re learning about what features are available in the local housing stock, you’ll also be developing your pricing instincts. This is a very important part of the home-buying process. The better informed you are about local valuations, the easier it will be to determine how much you should pay for a property.

The final step of the process is negotiating a home purchase with the seller of the home you want to buy. Negotiations can go quickly or they may be carried out over days or weeks, depending on the situation.

THE CLOSING: Be patient and keep your goal in mind.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.

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