Look beyond the Surface
When you start to shop, don't focus too much on the surface. So you find a spectacular house, but its basement resembles the interior decorating you'd expect to find at an amusement park, with dingy carpets and garish decor. Remember that these may be just cosmetic issues! You can replace carpets and repaint walls. Don't pass up on a great deal over a superficial issue.
The important points are not cosmetic. Is the house structurally sound? Is the roof relatively new? Are the heating, ventilation, and cooling systems up-to-date and maintained? A professional home inspection should answer all of these important questions.
A house featuring cosmetic eyesores can be a bargain. If other potential buyers are running away from a cosmetic issue, you may be able to negotiate for a price point that will more than compensate for what you will spend to remove the slight problem. You and your agent can research the cost of making any necessary repairs and negotiate to deduct those costs from the selling price.
No Mountains out of Molehills
A home inspection should find anything and everything that needs repair. It's reasonable to ask the seller to deduct the cost of major repairs from the selling price, but you don't want to overdo it. You're more likely to seal a deal if you are willing to take care of any minor repairs, and a seller might be more willing to deduct the cost of those larger repairs if you are open to accepting normal wear and tear.
You might not be the only interested buyer, and if this is your dream home, the seller might just decline your offer and take another one if you're asking too much.
Don't get ripped off, but don't try to rip anyone off, either.
Scout the Neighborhood
The summer is a perfect time to get a real idea of what the neighborhood is actually like. Unless you're shopping in some remote corner of Transylvania, the neighbors will be outside having fun in the sun. From kids having water fights in the cul-de-sac to inflatable pool beer parties in the front yard, you should be able to eye who lives in the area--and most importantly, next door. Is it a friendly community? Is it a safe neighborhood? Are people out taking care of their properties? Are the lawns mowed? If the neighbor is attempting to trim the hedge with a golf club while wearing nothing but a tinfoil hat or a bunch of characters from Grand Theft Auto are cruising the streets, you might want to pass.
Prices & People
Understanding the psychology of sellers can help you get a better deal. Watch for new listings, and do everything you can to be the first to look at the property. Sellers love the idea of closing a deal with the first candidate, and will often bend a little further than they would after dealing with prospects that don't pan out.
Conversely, if the season wears on and you haven't closed a deal, look for properties that have been on the market since early spring. You'll want to watch out for the reasons why that property hasn't sold, but you'll also want to be aware that sellers who haven't seen much interest in a property may be willing to make substantial concessions.
Take your time. Don't jump at a house you like. Check out at least five options, get an idea of what's out there, go shopping with your agent, and go home to ponder the results of your quest. This purchase is likely to be the biggest of your life, and you don't want to suffer later, as many do, from the misery of buyer's remorse.