Choose a Realtor or real estate salesperson to help you with your search
Generally, the Realtor is paid by the seller. Therefore, a prospective buyer should take advantage of that fact and have someone help them in their search. A buyer should be very careful and interview several Realtors before choosing the one to help them with their goal. It is very important to engage a realtor that you feel that you can trust, and will not push you into a transaction that you are not comfortable with. A buyer's realtor needs to be very patient, as they will probably have to show you many homes before you find one that you are interested in making an offer on. A Realtor also has to be very knowledgeable about the local market, because they need to advise you properly as to what price you should pay for a home. Especially in todays market where there are so many distressed properties, it is difficult to understand what the prices should be.
Choose a lender to obtain the loan necessary to purchase the home
You may be thinking that it is way too early in the process to decide on a lender, and you'd be correct. However, in today's market it is a very good idea to get "pre-qualified" by a lender prior to placing an offer. Less than 50% of contracts are actually closed, because it's very difficult to get a loan. So, it's important to know if you qualify for the homes that you are looking at.
Once you have a contract for your home, you can get different quotes from lenders; the quote from the lender is called the "Good Faith Estimate". In the past, sometimes those were not very accurate; however, changes going into effect in 2010 will make those estimates more reliable. You have a certain amount of time to obtain the loan commitment from the lender (usually 30 days). Therefore, you must be diligent in obtaining the loan.
Choose your own title company and/or lawyer
Both your Realtor and your lender may want to steer you to a specific title company to perform your closing. However, a buyer can choose which title company can do their closing. But, you should know that I believe that one should always hire a lawyer when purchasing a home, as it may be the biggest investment of one's life. Many lawyers can perform the tasks of the title company and other lawyers have an affiliated title company.
In considering a title company/lawyer, examine their reputation in the community, whether they insure with large reputable underwriters, their experience and their customer service. Remember, it's important to have someone trustworthy take you through this experience.
Finally, once you have chosen the title company and/or lawyer, make sure that you inform your lender and Realtor, so that they do not hire one for you.
Submitting an offer for a home
Typically, an offer is submitted in the form of a signed final contract. That contract conditions everything that happens from the time the contract is signed to the closing, from inspections and financing to title and utilities. There are commonly used "pre-printed" forms that your Realtor can usually help you with. However, it is a very good idea and highly recommended for your attorney to review the contract with you and negotiate any terms that you may want to be different from the "pre-printed" form. Sometimes, this advice can save a buyer money and heartache down the road. If there is a time constraint, a buyer can add the words "subject to attorney review" on their offer.
Make careful examination of the home you are purchasing
Generally, contracts are "as is". Therefore, the buyer must examine the property carefully to make sure that the property is in good shape and there are no hidden issues. The buyer should definitely hire a certified home inspector to inspect the home. It is a small expense compared with the possible downside of a hidden defect. A buyer should accompany the inspector to ask any questions at the time of the inspection. A buyer should make sure with your title company that there are no title issues affecting the home. If there are, you must review them. For example, there may be homeowner's associations that restrict certain activities. You must review those documents and make sure that you can live with those restrictions
What is a Short Sale?
A Short Sale is when the seller of a home owes their lender more than what the buyer is paying for it. The Seller's lender must then reduce the payoff amount in order for the closing occur. These types of closings are problematic in that lenders usually need a few months in order to agree to reduce their loan amount. Sometimes, a lender will not agree to a reduction and the contract is canceled. Oftentimes, the seller has nothing to gain from a sale and may not be as motivated to sell as a regular seller. Therefore, if you are entering into a short sale contract, understand that it could take a lot longer than anticipated and it may be a bumpy long road to closing.