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Make a list of what you need in your new home: number of bedrooms, eat-in kitchen, family room, garage, central heating and/or central air, etc.
Make a list of items that you want but are not essential: a fireplace, built-in cook surface and oven, en suite master bathroom and central vacuum.
Identify a neighborhood or two you'd like to live in based on price, character, proximity to work, schools and daycare, recreation facilities, public transit, etc. Websites like Domania.com and Schoolmatch.com are good starting places.
Scan real estate ads in the newspaper or online to get a better idea of the kinds of houses that are available in the neighborhoods you like, and the selling prices of homes in those areas.
Use a real estate agent who is familiar with the neighborhoods you've chosen.
Visit your propsective homes at night to see how the neighborhood feels. You might be buying a home where most of your neighbors work during the evening or are students, and they are loud during the late hours when they get home. You would never know this by seeing a house during the day. Spend 15-20 minutes on a few different nights sitting in front of the house in your car for a sense of the noise level.
Discuss your price range and your housing needs and wants with your agent.
Ask your agent to walk you through the purchase process and explain the costs involved.
View a number of houses with your agent so that he or she can get a better handle on your needs and preferences.
Narrow your search down to at most 4-6 homes you can afford and like enough to make an offer to purchase.