My spouse and I went through a process of agreeing on what features were important to us in a house. We have rented for a lot of years and have learned what it is we want and what we do not want. But the more homes we saw, the more frustrating and intense it became for me. Until I made a chart, rating each house feature by feature using points. Then we could easily compare the houses against the requirements we had. This helped keep our emotions out of the decision making, emotions can cloud what the real needs are. My biggest tip is Don't rush into it. It is the hugest thing you will every buy.
I made a priority list with four columns when I was buying my house and gave it to the real estate agent. The columns were:
* Things I absolutely had to have -- example: at least 2 bedrooms
* Things I'd like but aren't deal breakers -- example: wood or tile floors
* Things I absolutely don't want -- example: location on a main thoroughfare
* Things I don't want but aren't deal breakers -- example: fireplace
This made things a lot easier and meant that I wasn't shown houses that were absolutely out of the question.
As a real estate agent and military spouse, I know and understand the pressures of buying a home, as well as the stress of having to make that decision on a short timetable. My best advice is to:
1)Get pre-approved and know what your budget is and then stick to that budget
2)Find an agent you trust- usually the best agents are those your friends refer you to- I get most of my clients through word of mouth.
3)Make two lists- your "mandatory" list, and your "dream" list. What you absolutely can't live without in a home goes on your mandatory list, and you shouldn't look at houses that don't meet those minimum requirements. Your "dream" list should be all those things you'd love to have in a home if you can find it in your price range, but that you really could live without if you can't find them in a home that is otherwise suitable.
4)Select an area or location you'd like to be in, or a radius from a certain base or landmark, otherwise, it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
5)Try not to look at more than 3-5 houses at a time without taking a break, otherwise they will all blur together and you won't remember what you saw.
6)Finally-try to look past the current homeowners decor or taste- you aren't buying their artwork or furniture! Try to block out their things and picture your things in the home. Focus on the layout and features of the home rather than the colors and the decor.
Great tips so far. I would place a lot of importance during the inspection phase and be present during the inspection. Stick close to the inspector and ask questions along the way -- your paying for him/her to look for your best interest. Ask about water pipes, electric, roof, windows, etc. -- the non-sexy things to the house that will end up costing you a lot of money if something needs updating. Most likely, if the home owner had to remodel for resale, they didn't address these things, but took care of what most home buyers see when touring above the house.
Also, I don't think it matters too much that your own real estate agent picked the inspector, but do take care that they are independent of the process.