I grew up in New England. Our first investment/vacation home was in Newport Maine, a little cabin on Lake Sebasicook. When we sold that, we bought our first property in Florida in the mid 80's-Palm Harbor, next door to Dunedin and we fell in love with it here.
Now to your questions and some of the info others have supplied so far:
First time looking is often an information gathering trip, especially long distance relocation. What you first think you want may not end up being what you decide on. This being said, it is still important to know the price range you are qualified for AND comfortable with. It can easily be done over the phone, some even do it on line. It doesn't mean you are locked into this lender for your loan, but should you see something you want to make an offer on you will be ready. We put pre-approvals or proof of funds with all offers when they are presented. Like another agent said, it also shows you are a serious buyer. Realtors get paid when the deal closes. Any professional should be willing to take the time you need to find the right home. Your being prepared shows you are serious and not just window shopping.
First interview some professional full time Realtors and find one you are comfortable with. They can show you any house on the market. It is best to work with one agent. They are committing their time to finding you the right home, you shoud be loyal to the one you choose. They only get paid if they find you the right property and it closes. It really isn't fair to have several agents spending their time looking for the same person, when only one will be compensated for their work. If you are not happy with your agent let them know and if it can not be resloved let them know you will be changing agents.
Your Realtor will be glad to give you the names of some lenders and or mortgage brokers. Almost every large real estate company has an "In House" mortgage company or a joint venture with a major lender, making pre-approvals very easy. I don't agree with the Realtor being the mortgage broker also. Your mortgage is a long term commitment and you need to comparison shop. If clients choose to check our in house mortgager company I always encourage them to shop around and compare who has the best program for THEIR individual needs. There is nothing illega aboout a Realtor being a morgage broker too, but it often presents ethical questions. Many companies discourage the practice.
I understand the homebuyer who encouraged you to put your home on the market as soon as possible due to the tax credit, but let me add real estate is a local business. If I recall, from when I owned land in Maine, the market is pretty much dead in the winter. If this is still the case, rather than having your listing appear stale before anyone is ready to look, I would encourage you to spend this time getting it in tip top show condition to spring on to the market at the first thaw.
I live in Palm Harbor and cover all of Pinellas county. I would be glad to interview for the job of helping you find the the right home. While you are still in Maine, I have a free service called â€œListingbookâ€, which I provide for my clients. It is like a back door into the MLS which updates daily: new listings, price changes, solds & withdrawns, allowing you to really be able to follow and learn the market. I set up a basic search according to your guidelines. Once you are in, you can change the parameters as you need. If this is something you would be interested in let me know. Email or give me a call.
Broker Associate, GRI, CDM
Real Estate Consulting, Marketing & Sales
Prudential Tropical Realty