Is s/he right for me? First of all, "realtor" is pronounced "REAL-tor" NOT "Real ¯ la ¯tore." This is VERY important to them! Next, choose your realtor carefully. Ask around for recommendations. Try a few out. Would you mind spending 100 hours with this person? In a car? Do they know the area you want to live in? Are they available when you call? Do they listen, or do they keep showing you the same cat-piss smelling estate sale houses?
Defining your sweet spot: Your realtor is like a sexual partner. The key to success lies in defining your needs. Show your realtor a few houses that you lust after, even if they aren't for sale. (A good realtor will contact the current owner and try to sweet-talk them out of their house, even if it's not on the market.) Tell your realtor what you can't live without: yard, hot tub, sunken living room. And what you'd like in a perfect world: wet bar, gargoyles, no asbestos.
Finding your crib: The best part of having a realtor is that you now have a chauffeur. Your realtor will drive you ANYWHERE and NEVER complain. That's his job. Another nice thing about realtors is they tend to have very fancy cars because they spend so much time in them. (TIP: If your realtor drives an old Honda Civic with gas fumes, dump him and find one with a clean-smelling Lexus.)
First step for happy house-hunting is identifying the neighborhood where you want to live. Your house search will probably consist of driving around this neighborhood looking for houses that are for sale. Most important, ALWAYS skip "open houses." The seller's realtor will be there and she is EVIL and a BIG FAT LIAR.
Crib-peeping etiquette: Are you allowed to use the bathroom in a house you're viewing? YES! If so, are you allowed to steal Vicodin out of the medicine cabinet? YES! OHHH, YES. Are you allowed to cattily dismiss the current owner's interior design choices? YES! It is required!
The magic moment: There will come a time that your realtor will take you to a house that has all you want AND is in your price range. You will look into your realtor's eyes and KNOW! Act cool! Jumping up and down and immediately making an offer will most likely destroy any negotiating leverage you have. Play it cooooool. Is the house "stale" (has it been on the market for months)? If so, what's the hurry? Make an offer a few thousand below the asking price.
Or, is the market HOT? Have you been looking for months and finding nothing but hovels? Is this the first day the house is on the market? Are other potential buyers lurking about? OFFER ASKING PRICE. Or, maybe sweeten the pot and toss in a few more thousand (hell, it's the bank's money, anyway, not yours).
Good luck! And don't forget to invite us to the house- warming!