All the answers published are right on target.
Get an agent, if you don't already have one. If you don't have one, talk to friends or relatives that do, or call me @ (916) 484-0955. You want a qualified agent, to provide you quality answers to your questions and quality in understanding the market conditions, pricing, and how to write an offer. I've got over thirty years experience doing just that.
Get pre-approved by a lender. If you don't know a lender, have your agent refer you to one they know and trust. Or, like getting an agent, referrals from friends and relatives.
Have your agent search the market using your parameters established by your lender. The Multiple Listing Service accessible by agents is the most up to date and accurate information available on properties.
Write your offer. Use your agent's knowledge of the market, conditions and your purchasing power. But don't hesitate to write your offer. Please make sure you are comfortable with the price and terms, since you are the one making the payments and living in the house. But an experienced agent should be able to write an offer that is acceptable, based on the obstacles they are confronted with. An agent with hundreds of sales a year does not make a qualified agent. Experience at writing offers AND getting them accepted is what will help make you successful. But once you find the right property that you are comfortable with, write that offer. Don't think about it over night, you may regret it.
I've represented buyers, sellers, negotiated short sales and listed and sold foreclosures. I've done it all. I don't have to rely on quantity to get me by. I rely on quality, and so do my clients, very successfully.
When you call my office, you talk to me, not an assistant, escrow coordinator or anyone else that can't answer your questions. You will be impressed,