Step 1 - Find a realtor
Believe it or not, these guys can come in quite handy for getting you in-depth information regarding the house you are researching that Realtor.com won't list. When dealing with a realtor - if you are just buying a house, not selling, then you'll have to sign a "Buyer Agreement" with said Realtor, which basically just allows this realtor to work on your behalf during negotiations and such. The Realtor in this case would be known as the "Buyer's Agent". This is the situation I went with as I am currently living in an apartment.
Step 2 - Tell your realtor what type of house you want
Give as much detail to your realtor as possible about the type of house you want. Notice I did not say need, you should basically give the description of your dream house to your realtor. An example might be - brick ranch, with basement and two car attached garage, at least 1500 sq ft in size, on 2 acres of land, three bedrooms, two baths, fireplace and a pool! The more info that you give them, the more they'll be able to find.
Step 3 - Prepare to be flexible
Not all the listings that you're realtor will send you will meet your dream house criteria. At some point you'll have to prioritize what is "really" important to you and then you'll come up with the list of "needs"
NOTE: A good realtor will be sending you listings everyday - or at very least every two days.
Step 4 - Driving it home!
Once a realtor sends you a listing, you may want to do a drive by of the house to take a look at the outside condition as well as finding out what the neighborhood is like - there were quite a few listings that looked great on the web and looked like hell when I drove by them. A good rule of thumb for the neighborhood is to ask yourself these questions...
Would I feel good about having my parents come to see me in this place?
Would I feel safe about having my kids play outside in this area?
Living next to the liquor store my be a sure sign that this is NOT the place for you!
Step 5 - The Walkthrough
Ah, what a wonderful time this can be... the homeowner and the selling agent have hyped up this house as much as possible, so be ready!
Interesting points that I've learned;
1) Full basement doesn't mean finished or even mean that it is a basement you can live in. I walked through a house that listed "Full Basement" and found that it was 5 feet tall, no good for a guy who is 6'3" tall.
2) TLC usually means Tender Loving Care, but might as well mean Take Lotsa Cash or Total Loss Case because unless you are a contractor; the skill / money it will take to fix these houses up will break you faster than Drago broke Apollo Creed.
3) "Minor" is a MAJOR word. Minor damage should equate to "replace". I walked through a house that had "minor foundation work needed" which turned out to be a fifteen foot crack in the block foundation, about an inch thick.
4) Ignore descriptive words like "spacious" or "open concept" until you really see the place. Spacious apparently means something different to each person - I walked through "spacious" kitchens that were smaller than a walk-in closet.
5) "Water view" could mean that you have to be holding binoculars to "view" the water.
6) "All appliances included" usually means that the appliances are so old that the seller is buying new ones, or they can't physically get them out of the house.
There are many more - but I'll let you discover them on your own and I think you're getting my point.
Be sure to ask your realtor to have the house empty when you walk through - and by that I mean asking the current owners to not be present. The reason is simple, you don't want them to influence your decision about the overall feel or condition of the house. I walked through a house where the owner was present and he basically had a bit of a nervous breakdown while showing us the place, talking about why he loved the house so much and why he didn't want to leave but was "f-ing" forced to... and let me say it was not a comfortable situation.
There will be a time when you walk through a house and you just fall in love. It's perfect and you can see yourself living there! The picture below is the one that I found.
The next post will talk about what comes after you've found that perfect house... and how you just might find out how imperfect it really is...