Buying a house can be an exciting adventure. Whether you’re buying your first home, second home or forever home, there are several important ways you can prepare for your home buying experience. Take these steps first to help minimize the stress and maximize the enjoyment of homeownership.

The biggest step you should take is to pay off as much debt as possible. Some homeowners need to take out a mortgage. Terms and payment plans can be very reasonable, but this additional financial burden may become too much if you’re already weighed down with student loans, credit card loans, and car leases. You don’t have to be debt-free to buy a house, but you should do everything you can to minimize your debt to focus on your mortgage payment.

Next, the best mortgage rates are reserved for homebuyers who have excellent credit. Thankfully, this step often goes hand-in-hand with paying off debt. Making consistent, on-time payments and increasing your access to credit can improve your score. This will also allow you to negotiate for lower interest rates and more flexible terms for your mortgage.

Most homes require a down payment. Mortgages that don’t require a down payment will often have higher interest rates and other unfavorable terms. A down payment is typically calculated as a percentage of the total loan amount, but the percentage will vary depending on your credit score, house price and loan provider.

Another essential step is to start shopping for homes. The housing market experiences upward and downward swings, so current prices may be the ideal time to buy. Check out the local area. School districts are not only a good sign of a child-friendly neighborhood, but they’re also a good sign of the safety and vitality of the neighborhood. Compare your potential home to nearby homes to see if it’s up-to-par. Look for a home that is in the middle of the pack in terms of price in your area.

Once you start taking these initial home-buying steps, you’ll be on your way to homeownership. Viewing potential homes is an exciting time, whether you’re buying your first home or moving to a new home in another neighborhood. Look out for the best mortgages for your particular home and take advantage of your credit score to secure favorable rates and a term limit you can comfortably afford.