1. Find a real estate agent via referral. Speak with friends and family to see if anyone knows a good agent that they would recommend. Find an agent that specializes in your unique circumstances. Make sure they are familiar with the market in which you are shopping, and be sure they are experienced in anything that is unique to you. Having a specialist in your area of need is to your best benefit.
2. Seek the advice of at least three brokers. Purchasing a home in today's market is nothing like it used to be even five years ago. Forget everything you think you know, and speak with at least three different brokers about your unique circumstances. Your real estate agent can, and should, supply you with names and numbers of brokers they are personally experienced with. Be sure to take good notes!
3. Decide on a broker. After you've interviewed the brokers, decide on one to work with personally, and notify your agent. Be prepared to make purchasing a home and working directly with your broker a part-time job. You will be faxing, emailing, and talking on the phone much more than you probably realize, especially if you are doing anything like purchasing a foreclosed home or selling on a short-sale.
4. Keep excellent records. Set up an area in your home, I used the kitchen counter, where you can keep all your paperwork. I ended up with several file folders and envelopes loaded with paperwork relevant to the sale of our old home and the purchase of our new home. You want everything available at your fingertips. With as much work as this entails, you don't want to waste time looking for things when you need them and redoing something because you've misplaced paperwork.
5. Pay attention to details and deadlines. There will be many of them in regard to both the sale of your old home and the purchase of your new one. Missing one deadline, or overlooking one detail, can slow down or even stop the process. Stay on top of things, and the process will run much more smoothly.
6. Mind your manners. Your agent and broker and their staff will be working their tails off for you. Their jobs are demanding and stressful. The process can get frustrating for everyone. Be polite, and thank them often.
7. Be honest! This covers all areas of the process. The bank will know more details about you than you ever thought possible by the time this process is complete, so you might as well just get comfortable laying it all out. Also, when showing your home, be honest with the prospective purchasers when they ask questions. Be especially honest to the person that actually purchases your home. If you know things that will make their life easier in their new home, your old home, share with them. There were many things I shared with the gentleman that purchased our old house. I held nothing back. He fully knew what he was purchasing. I cannot say the same for the people that sold us our new home. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE our new house, I just wish the old owner had been more honest and forthcoming.
8. Hire an inspector, or two! Again, this is something you want a referral on. Even a well referred inspector isn't going to catch everything. Having an inspector can give you peace of mind in that odds are much in your favor that they will catch anything that would be a big red flag in regard to whether or not you should actually purchase the home. However, be prepared to still find unexpected things after you've moved into your new home. No home is perfect. They all have their issues. Remember that place you just moved out of ?
9. Be nice! If you leave behind any appliances make sure they actually work, or be sure to tell the new owners that they do not. The lady that we purchased out new home from left her washer and dryer. We thought it was very sweet of her since we were converting from gas to propane and would not have the ability to have our dryer hooked up right away. With a baby in cloth diapers I thought this was such a blessing until my husband ran the washer to have it fill up with water and not drain. We spent $40 on a pump to drain the washer, had the inconvenience of extra work right in the middle of moving, plus we had the inconvenience of disposing of two large appliances that did not work. Not nice! Also, leave behind things that may be helpful to the new owners like extra tiles, bit of hardware, and manuals relevant to the home. This is a genuinely thoughtful act that will be much appreciated.
10. Be clean! Once you've moved everything out of your old home, go back and clean. If you do not have the time or energy, hire someone. There is nothing more frustrating than moving into a new home that is filthy. Moving is hard work in and of itself without having to deep clean a house from top to bottom. Trust me, the new owners will be very appreciative, and you will feel wonderful not having left a huge mess for someone to clean up.
11. Ask questions, and a lot of them. The more questions you ask, the more you will feel comfortable about every part of the process. Never hesitate to ask anything you would like to know of anyone in the process; real estate agent, broker, seller's agent, old home owner, absolutely everyone! Especially ask the previous owner of the home you are purchasing TONS of questions, especially if there are big differences in the type of home or area compared to where you are moving from. BUT, be aware that not everyone is honest, so if it's something that is a big issue and could be a deal breaker verify the accuracy of the information they provided to you.
In summary, you are the best person to look out for you. Buying and selling a home is likely the largest single transaction you will do in your lifetime. It pays to pay attention to detail. You are your best advocate. Cover your back as much as possible. Do your research, and play nice.