According to a recent survey by Navy Federal Credit Union, 40 percent of consumers between the ages 18 and 44 are in the market for a home. As more consumers from this group shop for a home, competition grows. So, like any important military mission, planning ahead is the key to success.

Start early

If buying a home is on your horizon, the best time to start the process is right now. That’s because it can take a few weeks to get yourself in a position where you can make a successful offer on the home you want.

Start by understanding the financial factors that impact your purchasing power – your budget, credit score, cash flow, debt and savings. It’s also a good idea to think about how long you plan on living in the home you’re in the market for.

If you have any questions about these factors, connect with a bank or credit union you can trust. That way, their home loan experts can help clarify any questions you have and provide tips on how to get your credit score or debt situated before applying for the loan.

Understand the different home loans

Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or you’re more experienced, it’s a good idea to dive in and understand the different loan options that are available today.

This is where knowing how long you want to be in your home will pay off. If you’re planning on just a few years, then you might consider an adjustable rate mortgage. If you’re thinking long term, a more traditional 15 or 30-year loan might be best.

The VA loan

Active Duty military and veterans should also consider using their VA home loan guarantee, which can reduce the out-of-pocket expense associated with completing a real estate transaction. A VA home loan offers many benefits to a homebuyer, including lower interest rates, lower (or no) down payment requirements and no requirement for private mortgage insurance. Keep in mind – there are a few unique aspects of VA loans you’ll need to understand. For example, the Veterans Administration requires specific kinds of home inspections, appraisals and a funding fee.

If you decide a VA loan is right for you, work with a lender who knows the ins and outs of this loan. They can help answer your questions and keep the process moving quickly, which is crucial in a competitive market.

With any home loan, there are additional costs that will impact your budget including insurance, taxes/fees and titling of the property. You’ll also need to think about how you’ll pay for the routine costs that come with homeownership, like preventative maintenance and emergency repairs.

Working with your lender

Planning and preparation is just as important to your homebuying mission as the team you work with throughout the process. Surround yourself with helpful partners, like a lender that understands military homebuying, and a real estate agent who knows what’s on your wishlist. Communication with this core team is critical.

If you can respond to questions your lender has as quickly as possible, you can avoid any unnecessary delays.

Buying a home is an exciting investment in your future. Crafting a plan when you first start the process can only simplify things, especially if you choose experienced partners who understand your needs and goals.

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Navy Federal is federally insured by NCUA. Equal Housing Lender.