Get Pre-Qualified. In this market visiting with a lender is a necessary first-step. It verifies your eligibility to purchase a house and helps you determine how much you can afford. You should expect to see a Good Faith Estimate of closing costs from your lender at this point which will tell you approximately how much money you will have to provide at closing to purchase a house in your price range.
Find a Quality Real Estate Agent. You should see an Agency Disclosure form the first time you work with a real estate agent. This form is there to protect you, the consumer, from any shady agents out there. Also, a good agent will patiently listen to you and value your priorities, explain each step of the process as you go along, and watch the whole market for you (not just their own properties).
Find Your Home. Don't be hasty! When visiting a house, take notes and pictures as it can be difficult to remember the details when you get home. Visit the house with your spouse and children and make the decision collectively. While I believe you will know a house is right for you the moment you walk into it, I also want you to take your time. Anyone pressuring you to move quickly in a real estate transaction probably has more to gain than you do.
Make an Offer. Many factors affect the price of a home including the asking price, property location, property condition, and contract terms. A good real estate agent will help you sort through these things as well as explain the earnest money you must attach to show your interest in the property. It is always a good idea to get a home inspection by a licensed inspector to check the roof, foundation and mechanical aspects of the property before you commit to purchase it.
Close the Transaction. There is a lot that happens after the offer and before sitting down at the closing table such as meeting contingencies, loan approval, work orders, title work, insurance, and a final walk through. Most of this your agent will take care of, but you will likely arrange for your own home insurance and will do the final walk-through on closing day. Remember that a house isn't sold until everyone has signed the closing papers and they have been recorded at the courthouse. Closing dates are becoming more "flexible" every day, so be ready to flex and enjoy the ride!