Since it sounds like you are planning on using financing, you'd want to first seek out a loan officer/mortgage broker/lender to work with, find out how much the payment is/money you'd need, the entire process from A-Z, etc. You can speak with & get pre-approved by many (do all of your "app"ing within 30 days for the sake of your credit score) but when it comes down to making your offer you want to have 1 particular loan officer in mind because you don't want to dilly daddle after your offer has been accepted.
How do you find that loan officer? That is tough, as I've read here at Trulia and everywhere else, a lot of people have problems qualifying for the loan after they've been pre-approved, or just are generally confused about the process, even at the closing table (real estate agents & loan officers at fault).
I suggest explore at least 3 options, and preferably at least 1 mortgage broker, 1 mortgage loan officer who works for a bank, and also one that would work at a smaller direct mortgage lender (not a broker, and not a bank, just a mortgage lender who arranges loans and sells them afterwards - usually to the banks)... it wouldn't be a bad idea if you had the time to interview up to 6. That way you can get a feel for how each does business, because not every mortgage broker is the same as another mortgage broker, etc.
You'll want to ask what the pre-approval process entails and how long it takes. Will the underwriter who will be allowing your loan to close be the person reviewing your file as part of that process? Will it just be the loan officer reviewing your information? Will they even ask you for documentation?
You'll also want to ask what types of programs they offer, and once your documentation has been thoroughly examined you'd want to get what options would then apply to you, as well as ask what your loan officer thinks would be the best loan program for your situation. Ask about the other program that would be 2nd best (as if the first one didn't exist), so you can realize why the loan you are being suggested would be the best.
You'll want to ask what type of fees & costs you could expect to incur along the way (credit report, earnest money deposit, home inspection, appraisal fee, lender & 3rd party closing costs, etc.), how much those costs are estimated to be, and when they are expected to be paid (at the time the service is performed, at closing, etc). You'll want to ask how much of a down payment you'll need, and if you have to provide it or if a family member or relative can gift it to you. You'll want to know how much extra money you would need to have beyond those costs & down payment, which are called "reserves" (ie. 2 months of reserves = 2 times your proposed housing payment), some programs don't need them but a lot do. You should also consider yourself how much you want to have on hand after you close on the home, it will vary depending on your comfort level but personally I feel at least 6 times the proposed housing payment is a safe plan.
You'll also want to ask what type of loan terms can they offer you if you were to lock in your interest rate today (you should ask all lenders you are considering this question on the same day so you can have an exact comparison, as interest rates fluctuate day-to-date and even can be intraday).
You should also ask when & how they will be available - are you someone who likes to discuss things after the normal work hours on the phone? In person on a Saturday? Through email? Someone where or not where you live?
There are more variables to think of, some will have greater importance to you and others will not, however I truly believe that you will have a feeling of pure comfort inside of you when you have found the loan officer who will be the perfect fit. You will leave the conversation having a full understanding of the road ahead and what is expected of you, as well as you'll feel the loan officer has left no stone unturned when going over your situation, listening to and addressing your needs.
Shane Milne | Loan Officer in Orange County, CA | NMLS #81195
Direct local #'s: 949-273-4161 or 646-257-4842
Lending in all 50 states, all types of mortgages