Planning on buying a home soon? Right now—yes, during these days of winter—is a great time to get rolling.

“Spring is peak home-buying season, which means you’re going to have competition from other buyers,” says Peggy Yee, a supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA. Hence, winter is the ideal time to get ahead of the curve. Follow these steps and you’ll be way ahead of the pack once the spring season heats up.

1. Find a buyer’s agent

Since real estate slows down during this time of the year, an agent can take the time to help you identify what type of home you want and educate you on the local market so you’ll have realistic expectations of what’s available.

“Your agent may hear of properties that are currently on the market or that will be coming on the market soon,” Yee says. “If you’re focused on a specific neighborhood, you’ll want to keep in contact with your agent and set your alerts on sites like Zillow and Trulia, to ensure you get the first look at those properties,'” states William McCoy, the broker at Friealtor real estate.

2. Prepare your finances

Before you begin house hunting, you should consult lenders who can help you understand what you can afford. They will determine how much money they’re willing to lend by checking out your financial details, from your income to your credit score. If your finances need improvement, you can find out in plenty of time to make amends.

“Depending on what shape your credit is in, it may take a couple of months to raise your score,” says Richard Redmond, a mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.” Aim to get credit advice from a professional a few months before you plan to buy. If your credit score is strong, getting pre-approved for a home loan now makes sense.

“Pre-approval is usually only good for 90 days,” says Redmond, “but it’s easy to renew it if the borrower’s financial picture doesn’t change. When interest rates are trending upward, it’s better to lock in your rate sooner rather than later.”

3. Start previewing homes

You won’t really know what type of home you’re looking for until you actually step inside, says Lisa Cahill, co-owner of Evolve Real Estate in St. Petersburg, FL.

4. Scrutinize prospective neighborhoods

Have your sights set on a particular neighborhood? Winter is a good time to see whether the community is going to be a good fit. Online research won’t reveal the noise level or what the neighbors are like. Concerned about traffic? “Go and test-drive your commute,” says William.

5. Don’t rule out buying early

“If you’re willing and able to move during the winter, then you can find some great deals on homes that did not make it off the market during the fall months,” explains William. So, keep an open mind about buying a home during the winter. Although there may be fewer homes to choose from, there is also less competition.