Assess what you want versus what you need.
Prior to househunting, assess what you really need to have…and what would be a real bonus…and what you absolutely couldn’t live with. How large a home do you need? Do you need 7 bedrooms so the whole family can come stay with you or do you want a charming two bedroom with little upkeep required? Do you want a master bedroom on the first level? How much work do you want to do prior to moving in? How much time will you spend at the house? Do you want to list it for seasonal rentals until retirement or move there yourself immediately? Is an open floor plan a must? Can you live in a mountain home without a fireplace?
Approval for loan prior to searching.
Pre-approval for a loan can save time and heartbreak. If you find the home of your dreams and have to wait to get the loan approved, someone else may get your dream house. And if you want a three story, 5 bedroom home but can only get a mortgage for a one bedroom, finding that out prior to house hunting is really helpful.
Buying your bread.
Ask yourself, how far do I want to travel to buy a loaf of bread? And do I want to buy my bread from a bakery or chain grocery store? A secluded home may be what you want, but if you want to walk to a quaint market to buy bread, then the ideal log cabin at the top of the mountain may be out of the question.
Buyer beware: Hire a home inspector.
A home inspection can bring to light some issues that can be addressed prior to closing on the home. For example, are the foundation cracks cosmetic or should the seller take care of that before you close?
Check out the neighborhood, especially the schools.
Walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for it. If you have children, are the schools the best in the area? Are the property taxes manageable? If you are retiring, are you the only house on the block without a swing set in the yard? How easy is the neighborhood to walk your dog in?
Choose your Realtor.
Select a Realtor with whom you are comfortable. Ask friends in the area and consider how much experience the Realtors have in the area. Does the staff change often? Are the Realtors from the area with local family commitments and good knowledge of the area? Do you feel as if the Realtor listens to your wants and needs?