The rules on how to buy a house have changed, folks—so if you’re serious about becoming a proud homeowner in the near future, you’ll want to read this first!

So what’s changed the most in the traditional home-buying process? For starters, prospective buyers should brace themselves for steep prices and stiff competition. Data on realtor.com® show that the nationwide median home price has pushed above $250,000 for the first time ever, 8% higher than a year ago. Plus, total inventory remains much lower than it was a year ago, falling well short of buyer demand. The result? Despite rising home prices, properties are “flying off the market,” says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Neenah, WI.

 

Altogether, “it’s a hot seller’s market,” says Seth Lejeune, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Collegeville, PA. While it’s good news for sellers, buyers will need to take some extra measures to compete with other house hunters.

To nail a perfect home in today’s housing market, follow these five new rules.

Rule No. 1: Prepare for a marathon house hunt

With today’s low housing inventory and strong buyer demand, it might take you three to six months to buy a house—and maybe even up to a year in some of the country’s tightest markets. Prepare accordingly.