Before buying a home, there are a few things that you can do to get organized and ready. Here's a list (though I'm sure more could be added).
1. Decide you want to own a home. Remember that owning a home costs more than the mortgage payment. Repairs, maintenance and general upkeep add up. No landlord to call to fix things! So be sure you are ready to take on the project (never ending, it seems) of owning a home.
2. Once ready, contact a mortgage lender. It helps to know what you can qualify for, but it is even more important to sit down and figure out what you are comfortable paying each month. I'm delighted to say that I've worked with many first time home buyers and the ones that make me happy are the ones that acknowledge that they are still young and want to do things and not just be putting all their time and money into a house. They decide what is comfortable for them and let the mortgage company work backwards from there to tell them what their price range is.
3. Figure out what you want. I ask my buyers to list all the things that they WANT in a home first...then I have them either eliminate those things that aren't necessary or rank the list. No home is perfect, but by recognizing in advance those things that are critical to you, helps weed out the homes that won't work.
4. Figure out where you want to be. Again, I ask my buyers to list all the communities that they WANT and then tell me why. By figuring out the reasons why a particular community is important, I can help them figure out what other communities might be good substitutes and help them narrow down their search geographically. I'm often amazed at how many people jump over a community just because they didn't think about it!
5. Find an agent. There are lots of qualified and capable real estate agents, but what a buyer needs is one they feel comfortable with and feel will bring value to the process. Keep looking until you find the agent that "gets" what you are looking for!
6. Start your search. You can search online or be set up on an automatic search by your agent. But here, I would add some caution. There are a lot of houses on the market and a lot of information available with a click of the mouse, but too much information can be toxic! Try to keep in mind the parameters that you've established (see 2, 3 and 4 above) and put your blinders on so you don't get overwhelmed! The most productive search is one that limits what you see to those properties that have your top 3 or 4 critical features that you identified prior.
7. Look at all the listings. There is a tendency for a buyer looking at listings to look at the pictures first then the virtual tour then the listings. If there are only a few pictures, the buyer typically moves on. My advice is to overlook the lack of pictures and read the whole listing. You are probably the only one doing that! You might overlook the perfect house just because of marketing. If you need more information (e.g. more pictures) ask your agent!
8. Set up showings. Don't do too many in one day! No more than five in a whole day. Take your camera, a note book and make notes. I've had buyers look at a house...then look at 20 more...only to go back to it later because it was the closest to what they wanted only they didn't believe that at the time. The pictures and the notes kept the house in the running long after the memory of the showing faded.
9. Once you find the house you want, realize there are usually three prices associated with it. There's the price above which you will not go. There's the price that, if it is accepted, would give you bragging rights for years. Then there's the price that you will probably end up paying for it! Stick to your guns...don't go above the price you've set as the top limit. Don't get caught up in an auction atmosphere. Remember that you already set your criteria...and there are more houses out there if your offer isn't accepted.
10. Don't look back. If your offer is rejected, move on. If it was meant to be, it would have happened.
11. Enjoy the process! Although a serious decision, it's fun to go look at houses and see the many choices out there. Don't rush into a decision or feel pressured...the right house will come along!