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"STEP UP TO SERVICE"

Understand the process.

Buying real estate is a complex matter and can be especially confusing for the first-time homebuyer. Do yourself a favor and learn as much about the process as you can before you begin. There are plenty of resources on the Internet, and most real estate offices will have pamphlets to explain things in plain language. You may also be able to research the real estate process by attending community-sponsored classes, or you can take a look at books like Home Buying For Dummies by Eric Tyson and Ray Brown, (IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.)

Figure out your finances.

That means determining how much money you can raise for your down payment and how much you can afford to pay on a monthly basis. Go to a lender to find out the size of mortgage you qualify for and get pre-approved. Better yet, use a mortgage broker to find you the best mortgage rate possible. When calculating the costs of home ownership, remember to plan for homeowner's insurance, property taxes, private mortgage insurance (if required), utilities, repairs, and maintenance.

LET YOUR AGENT KNOW WHAT YOU EXPECT.

It's up to you to tell your agent what you want and how you want to be involved in the home search process. Some buyers prefer their agents to handpick properties for their consideration; others want to receive the hotsheets on a daily basis so they can comb through the new listings themselves. You should listen to your Realtor's advice, but always remember that you're the boss. And speaking of bosses, it's a good idea for ALL decision-makers to visit the properties your Realtor shows you.