1. Get pre-qualified. Do yourself, your realtor, and the property owners a huge favor and get pre-qualified before you begin your journey to home ownership. This will provide you with a financial window in which your purchase must fit, allowing you to rule out many homes right out of the gate instead of getting excited over a home in which the lender may not approve. Pre-qualification will help your agent to select homes that specifically fit your budget, and will prevent you from wasting time and inconveniencing all involved in this process by looking at properties that do not fit the criteria.
  1. Use the internet. Today, the internet has many useful sites to help home buyers get a feel for the availability and value of homes on the market. Zillow, Trulia, Google, the local MLS site and others can provide you with information such as how many days a home has been on a market, which is an opener for a great negotiation, demographics, recent comparable sales, a general estimate of a home’s value, and even a street view of the neighborhood.
  1. The List. Create a list of “must see” houses from these websites and contact a realtor to schedule appointments. Allow yourself plenty of time to see all of the houses on your list and let the realtor know in the beginning how many homes you wish to see. While it is the realtor’s job to help you, and they want to you, they also need to plan their day around you in setting up appointments. So be courteous and communicate so that your realtor can help you find your dream home.
  1. Elimination. After spending a few days looking at properties, you should have made notes on your original list which helped you narrow down to a short list of two or three houses. At this point, you may want to see those few houses again, or you may already have made a decision.
  1. Home Inspections. Some people opt out of home inspections choosing instead to trust their own inspection or judgment. This may be acceptable if the house is fairly new or if you work in some capacity in the construction business. Home inspections can be a wild card in this process, depending on the age and reputation of the house, and could be expensive should you decide to have a couple of houses inspected. However, it can also be cheap insurance and well worth the peace of mind if you are not qualified to do your own inspection and have to hire a professional. Structural, electrical, or other issues need to be discovered before buying, not afterwards, and can even be extra bargaining chips should you still be interested in the home.
  1. Be neighborly. Visit the neighbors next door to the house or houses in which you are interested and ask them about the neighborhood and, specifically, your potential house. If it is near a body of water, ask if they personally have ever experienced flood damage. If the neighbors have, then your house has. Ask the neighbors about traffic or other noise, a nearby church, local shopping and eating areas, and what options are available for utility services. Some small communities only have one option. If a Home Owners Association exists, be sure to ask about the temperament of its board members, the fees, and if there are any unusual restrictions such as exterior paint color. Be sure to thank them for the information; after all, they may be your neighbor.
  1. Recent Sells. Once you have narrowed your list down to a couple of houses, check recent comparable sales in the neighborhoods of your selected houses. Compare these prices to those provided by the websites previously mentioned. Ask questions about the ownership of the houses, such as if the house is owner-occupied. If not owner-occupied, the owners may have relocated and be motivated to sell. The house could be facing pre-foreclosure or already in foreclosure, which again provides you with a good opportunity to buy at a great price. Ask questions!
  1. Decision Time. Perhaps the hardest part of buying a home is narrowing the list down to the perfect house. This decision should be based on your goals in owning the home. Are you buying the house to flip it later? Is it close to the school your child attends? Is this the place that you want to retire? These are personal matters and, although you may have had the best realtor in the business help you get to this point, only you and your family can make this decision. Often, we have to think long term when making financial decisions. However, buying a house can be based on short term needs such as proximity to work and school, temporary living, or as a quick flip, but can also require long term planning if you plan to enjoy your retirement years here.
  1. Making an Offer. A few strategies can be used when making an offer. If the home you have selected is in an active market, you may choose to offer full price or even a little above asking price if several people are interested in the same house. To the contrary, utilizing the recent sales comparables, home inspections and appraisals, and the owner’s circumstances can also help one to zero in on the perfect offer. Again, ask questions! So much money can be saved by doing thorough due diligence.
  1. Celebrate. Throw yourself a party once you have closed on your dream house. Do not forget to invite all of those who helped you through this process, including your realtor, banker, the friends you pestered as you bounced back and forth with your decisions, and even the neighbors who helped you. If you plan this party properly, maybe many of these people will help you on moving day.