1. Find a REALTOR who will help you through the entire process
2. Go to a mortgage company and obtain pre-qualification
This will help you figure out how much house you can afford. It doesn't make much sense to look at $300,000 houses if the lender will only let you borrow $200,000 (unless of course you have cash to make up the difference). Your lender and your real estate agent can help you find the magic number.
3. Make a list of the characteristics you're looking for in your new home (neighborhood or area of town, number of bedrooms, square footage, and so on).
This list will help you and your real estate professional narrow the search and avoid wasting time. A good agent is a good listener who will make small adjustments to your list as you look at houses in person.
4. Give your REALTOR a copy of the prequalification letter and of your list of characteristics
Most listing agents require a pre-qualification or even a pre-approval letter with the offer you make on the property. If you're paying cash, the seller and his agent will want to see proof of funds.
5. Your REALTOR will access the Multiple Listings Service and look for properties within your price range that fit your description. She will set up a secure site for you to access all the information and pictures of those properties through the internet. If you don't have internet access, you can meet with your agent in person and look through houses.
This first stage will help you weed out the properties you don't like and decide with ones you want to see in person.
6. Once you have found the house you want to buy, your agent will write up a contract and all the required addenda to present to the seller. The price you offer will depend on the market analysis conducted by your agent. Obviously you don't want to pay more than the market value of the property. There may be some "back and forth" and counter-offers at this point.
7. When your offer is accepted, your agent will deposit your earnest money with the title company. You will use the option period (usually 10 days) to have your inspection done by an independent inspector of your choosing.
The inspection report will list (and provide pictures of) everything that needs attention, perhaps some plumbing issues, a cracked window, a roof in need of repair, etc. You can go back to the seller and ask that some or all the repairs be done, or you can request a price adjustment. You may also decide not to buy the property at all, in which case the seller will keep your option fee and the title company will refund your earnest money.
8. At this point your agent will work closely with the title company to ensure all the proper paperwork is submitted in a timely manner.
There may be HOA documents to be submitted, the lender may require a survey or accept a previous one, the lender will send an appraiser to the property; countless details have to be attended to.
9. As the closing date approaches, your agent will make sure everything is in order and ready for the closing. You will set a closing date and time.
10.On closing day, you will need to bring two forms of ID and a cashier's check in the amount calculated by the escrow officer (the person at the title company who will have you sign all the documents). Before going to close on your new home, you will complete a final walk-through with your agent.
The purpose of the final walk-through is for you to make sure everything on the property is as it should be, based on the contract.