Hi curtis, and welcome to a2k
I am not a realtor but I have bought and sold quite a few houses.
So let's try to make this simple:
First and foremost, get preapproved for a loan of $500,000.
No sense in looking at houses in that price range, if you won't find a lender.
Second, location. A shack in a good neighborhood is better than a good house in a bad neighborhood. So, if you're handy, and can do some
remodeling yourself, do it!
When you're settled on the area, choose a realtor. I've always looked for
an experienced realtor with a large sales volume who doesn't waste your time. If you could pre-select the houses through online sources, it would save you all some time.
Once you've found the house of your dreams, go to zillow.com and
look up the estimated prices in the neighborhood and make an offer
that is accordingly. If the sales price is reasonable, don't push the price
down too much, you want the seller to cooperate with you later on.
The realtor will write-up an offer to the seller on your behalf, and
it is customary to put a $ 5000.00 minimum deposit down to show your
good faith. If the seller accepts your offer (of which you have 3 days to rescind), the realtor will suggest an escrow company who will handle
both the sellers and your transaction.
THe escrow company acts as neutral party protecting buyer and seller
at the same time. Escrow will make sure that all documents are submitted in a timely matter and no funds will be distributed until all
stipulations are taken care of. For instance, if you have the property
inspected for any repairs, or termites and the inspection report submitted to escrow, states that such and such repairs need to be made by seller,
the seller has to re-submit a report after necessary repairs are done.
When there are no liens on the house, no other titles to the property
as the seller, when all documents are in escrow and both parties have
signed off, your lender will submit the payment for the house to escrow
who in turn will send a check to the seller, and "escrow is closed"
which means, the house is yours.
All closing costs pertaining to escrow are usually split 50/50 by buyer
and seller. Escrow will also hand you the keys to the property, the
deed and any other documents you need.
So, make sure, that everything that you want to have repaired at the
house is submitted to escrow. Even if the house is sold "as is" there
are certain requirements the seller has to guarantee. In California, the roof has to be warranted by the seller for 1 year after close of escrow.
Right now, it is a buyers' market in southern California, so the best
time to get a good deal. Also, shop around with lenders, some of the
banks have higher loan cost than others.