3. Find a Reliable Real-Estate Agent
Home sellers almost always have an agent; you should too. A good broker serves as your advocate by scouting out listings, negotiating a fair price, spotting flaws that you might miss (like a badly situated driveway or soon-to-break appliances), and helping you prepare the paperwork. And there's no reason not to have one, since the seller covers both his and your agents' fees.
Finding the right broker can be tricky, though. Some promise to hunt for the house you want but then show you only properties listed by their company. Others push you to spend beyond your budget -- to increase their commission -- or simply don't search listings very thoroughly.
Interview several buying agents and avoid signing an exclusive agreement so you can keep your options open. Ask how much each one knows about the area, her typical price range, and how long she's been a broker. See whether she's willing to show you homes listed as "for sale by owner" (the answer should be yes -- even if such properties limit what she makes on the sale). Feel free to ask for a reference. In the end, it comes down to trust and personality: You want someone who understands your needs and who will work hard to find the property you want at a price you can afford.