Purchasing a home, especially your first home, typically involves a lot of uncertainty. Having a real estate professional to guide you through the process is very comforting and may help you avoid costly home buying mistakes.

In addition to finding listings that meet your criteria, an agent will provide details about neighborhoods, traffic volume, schools, homeowners associations and other buying considerations. When it’s time to make an offer, a buyer’s agent will pull data on comparable sales to help you set the initial offering price, explain the advantages and disadvantages of different mortgage products, guide you through the mass of transaction-related paperwork and more.

The real estate agent’s fee is almost always paid by the seller out of the proceeds from the transaction. As the buyer, you can take advantage of the agent’s best advice while letting someone else foot the bill.

And remember, you aren’t obligated to use the first agent you come across. Hold out to find someone you’re confident will represent your best interests.

Get pre-approved for a mortgage

Many home sellers today prefer that prospective buyers be pre-approved for a mortgage before putting in an offer to buy a property. From the seller’s perspective, this lowers the risk of a deal falling through. As a buyer, obtaining a pre-approval before making an offer strengthens your hand in negotiating with the seller. Your real estate professional can offer referrals to local mortgage brokers. You can also find one through friends or online.

Remember, just as you’re not locked in to the first real estate agent you interview, neither are you obligated to finance the transaction through the lender who pre-approved you upfront. Shop around for the best loan and terms for you.

Identify the right home

Once you’ve been pre-approved by a lender and have selected a real estate agent to represent your interests, it’s time to find your ideal home. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? What about overall square footage and amenities? You’ll also need to decide whether you prefer a single-family home, duplex, condominium or town home. These and other considerations play into the type of neighborhood you’ll be living in once you find the perfect place to call home.

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Rick Grant has been covering financial services for the trade press for more than 15 years. He specializes in home finance and technology.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.