Starting at the beginning, the buyer should find out from a lender of choice -- online lenders might not be the best choice (a topic for further discussion), to get a range that is realistic given the dynamics of the lending industry and the borrower's credit profile.
Following that exercise, the buyer needs to fit their expectations to their financial reality. If you're qualified for $100,000 for instance, and you search http://www.Trulia.com for prices in the 94080 area, you'll find that the two factors do not coincide. So, keep in mind what alternatives you may have to do something different, e.g., getting others to help qualify for more? Or, looking at other areas that fit your financial ability, etc.
Lastly, you'll want to work win a knowledgeable and effective agent who will tell it like it is. In other words, there are those agents who still apply the spaghetti test to selling real estate -- if you throw wet spaghetti against a wall and it sticks it is good to go. As a buyer, you don't want to fall short or wind up being limp, to follow the metaphor, so, if you find an agent who talks too fast, has the catch phrase, "don't worry..." built in, then start looking for someone else to help you. Key word is HELP. That's what a great agent will do, and they do it with heart.
Finding the right house, the right loan and the right agent to orchestrate it all makes the process all the easier and that much more enjoyable. However, buying a house these days does require a bit more ingenuity and a lot more patience. Hope that helps.
I am a realtor specializing in the San Francisco Peninsula area and currently have a listing in South San Francisco. I'd be happy to help you find a home in this area, as well as answer any questions you may have. Please refer to my website if you'd like to know more about me, as I believe it's important for clients to feel comfortable with me.
I'm sure you've heard about the federal tax credit for first time home buyers. That's set to expire at the end of November (meaning that you need to close escrow by November 30th). Please feel free to contact me if you would like more information about this as well.
Look forward to hearing from you!