Now that you’ve decided to buy your first home in the new year, use this checklist to get your ducks in a row. Now is the perfect time to get a handle on everything you’re going to need before the house hunt begins in earnest.

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High Scorer

From your first credit card to your last student loan, you’ve been gathering a credit history — and with it, a credit score. Ranging from 300 to 850, the higher your number the better when shopping around for the best mortgage rate. Check your credit score now and hope it’s above 740 as that could lend itself to landing you a lower mortgage rate.

Top-Up Time

While you’ve already saved up enough for a down payment on your first home, have you thought about unforeseen costs? Now’s the time to bulk up that bank account for emergency fees, property taxes, home inspections and mortgage application costs. Since we’re in the holiday season, consider asking loved ones to skip the presents and help out with a house-buying fund.

Rated R

Depending on the financial landscape each year, prime mortgage rates go up and down — for 2019, they’re predicted to rise. Your rate will depend on a lot of different factors such as your overall debt load, value of assets and length of mortgage. Look at the current rates and calculate what monthly payments you could afford for your first home using an online mortgage calculator.

Lend Me Your Ear

Once you have an idea of what’s doable, it’s time to shop for a mortgage lender to give you hard numbers. Your bank is a good place to start, as they will be able to recommend a company or individual they trust. Ask about first-time homebuyers plans or kickbacks, how long it will take to be approved, and what the fees will be.

Approval Ratings

After finding a mortgage broker that you get along with and who offers you great terms, it’s time to get preapproved. When buying your first home, having a preapproved mortgage means you can act quickly when that perfect property hits the market. It may take some time to go through this process, so start gathering the needed documents now.

Super Agent

Since you’re gearing up to sign a huge financial deal, finding a real-estate agent with whom you feel comfortable working closely with is important. Definitely talk to friends and family to see if they’d recommend someone, but don’t settle right away — shop around. Schedule a meeting with two or three different agents to get a feel for their customer-service style and see if you jive.

Closing Time

On this buying checklist there are also a few “don’ts”, which are things to avoid while hunting for your first home. Avoid getting a new credit card, as it’s considered an existing line of credit and could be factored into your mortgage application. Don’t come up late on any other debt payments, and don’t change jobs; either of those could hurt your loan chances. Also, don’t overspend over the holidays — think of the money you’ll need in 2019 to buy yourself that great present.

When it comes to landing your dream home, having what you need in hand will help the process go that much smoother. With a bit of preplanning after going through this handy checklist, closing on your first home in 2019 will be a breeze.

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