According to Theo Thimou (clarkhoward.com) the four most important things in preparing to buy a home are:
1. Get your finances in order
Develop a timeline, save for a down payment, correct any errors on your credit report, and start to gather your financial documents (recent bank statements, recent pay stubs and your last two tax returns).
2. Get pre-approved for a mortgage
Who you choose for a lender is very important as it could impact whether or not the deal closes on time (or at all). Clark Howard says never get the pre-approval letter from a big bank, because over the years they have become uncompetitive. He suggests that it's better to use a mortgage broker.
3. Start shopping for homes online
Make a list of your needs, wants and location. Spend a good bit of time surfing the internet looking at houses, features and prices.
4. Find the right real estate agent
A good negotiator who is knowledgeable and detail-oriented is critical, in addition to excellent communication skills. You will be spending a lot a time with this person, so it's important that you are comfortable with them.