If you are in a competitive market, get pre-approved, as opposed to pre-qualified. Ask important questions about their mortgage process, such as how fast they are able to get you from pre-approved to closing if you are in a hot market.
Consider the location carefully. Drive past the house at rush house- see if it is a commuter cut through. Go at night. Go in the morning. Walk the neighborhood- are people friendly? Are people out walking? What are the schools like? You can change many things about a house- you cannot, however, change the location.
Ignore the decor. I, know! That is easier said than done. The fact is, if they’ve painted the living room with bubble gum stripes, it is an eyesore that will take longer to sell- that works in your favor! Try to look at structure and layout. Paint is cheap and you can do it yourself- look for the big ticket items- bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen updates, square footage, yard space, etc.
If you are in an area that does not require home insepctions, do it anyway!!!!!!!!! They are required where I live- never, ever skip the home inspection. Make sure you are present with the inspector. They should check major structures (roof, heating, etc.), but should also check outlets, water pressure, etc.)- ask lots of questions.
The motrgage company does not know what you can afford. You often qualify for an amount based upon the idea that your salary will increase regularly. If you are in a profession that this does not occur, keep that in mind. While your mortgage amount is a fixed expense, your home owners insurance and texes are not. Thus, your mortgage will go up some each year, due to those escrowed expenses- just keep that in mind. Having a house is great; being house poor is not!
I bought my house just as the market was going up where I live. The number of available houses in our area had dropped to almost non-existent, coupled with write-ups in several national publications as a great, year-round beach community, so lack of houses plus becoming a more desireable area equaled price increases. Houses were selling with multiple offers before they ever made the listing services. I nearly stalked a guy who stuck a for sale by owner sign in his yard and then went surfing out of the country for six weeks- I called daily and saw the house the day he returned. We closed thirty days later. The home inspector looked at the house and told me it was really well-made, but that the people in it were distgusting. But, he said, they will be gone when you buy it! He said that once it was cleaned (he suggested a hire professionals- it was that bad!) and painted and had some new flooring that it would be great. He was right! I’ve done things little by little (and, we had some problems at the closing), but it was a great deal for me (I otherwise could not have purchased in this area). A word of caution, though, house prices here continued to go up and up and up! While my house value has doubled, many people here cannot sell for the wildly inflated price they paid at purchase. Know your market. If you buy too high, you need to be prepared to stay in that house or sell at a loss later. Know what you can really afford and know your market.
Also, if all other things are generally equal between two homes, but one has something like an additional bathroom, go for the additional bathroom- even if you like the layout of the other house or decor of the other house more. You can change decor- adding a bathroom is hard/expensive.