To keep hassles to a minimum, take time to independently evaluate each professional you'll need, from lender to real estate agent to home inspector to title agent.
Choose client-focused, experienced pros who are appropriately licensed.
Here are additional tips, based on my team's interviews with consumers and highly rated service providers.
Mortgage lender: Before you start looking at homes, find a reliable lender to preapprove you for financing. This is especially important now, given more stringent government regulation of home financing.
Seek a responsive bank or mortgage professional who keeps the terms of the agreement consistent, or gives fair warning of changes, and who communicates well so that paperwork flows in a timely way.
Real estate agent: Look for agents who'll communicate with you promptly throughout the process.
Avoid an agent who steers you only to his or her own listings or those of the company. Be wary of hiring relatives or friends with limited experience or agents who work only part time.
Make sure the agent you hire has the computer skills and web savvy to set up automated searches so you're notified quickly of new listings.
Confirm that an agent is properly licensed and in good professional standing. All states require that real estate agents be licensed.
Most states have sites that provide information on disciplinary action taken against licensed agents. Note that if you hire a Realtor (a member of the National Association of Realtors), he or she is required to follow a code of ethics.
If you end up under contract with an agent you're unhappy with, ask to be released from the arrangement.
If that fails, consider asking an experienced local real estate attorney for advice.
Home inspector: Look for inspectors who go beyond state regulatory requirements (though not all states require inspectors to be licensed), receive continued education and belong to a professional organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors.
ASHI requires that members adhere to a code of ethics that prohibits receipt of referral fees. Ethical inspectors don't take kickbacks from contractors who repair problems an inspection uncovers, or receive money from real estate agents who refer their clients.
Be sure to schedule an inspection early enough in the process that there's time to deal with repair issues or other problems.
To prevent last-minute problems at closing, closely monitor that the sellers take care of any agreed-upon repairs stemming.
Title agent: Lenders or real estate agents may recommend title companies, but to avoid hiring someone with a conflict of interest, be sure to ask about affiliations between parties.
Also, inquire about licensing, which is required for title agents in all states, and request a full list of charges.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care; www.angieslist.com/.