Put your words into action: When you see a house you want, you'll make a verbal offer. If the seller is interested, your next step is to commit yourself in writing. The written offer, or contract, is usually drawn up by the seller's agent, but if you choose to use a buyer's agent and real estate lawyer, they can negotiate and review that contract on your behalf.
Mind the contingencies: Typically, contracts are offers to buy contingent upon several factors, most notably a satisfactory appraisal of the home, a satisfactory home inspection and your ability to obtain adequate financing. If the appraisal or inspection is unsatisfactory or you can't get mortgage, that's an opportunity for you to renegotiate the contract with the seller or back out of the deal.
If you're buying an older home, you might consider putting in a cost-of-repair contingency. That lets you back out if the estimated cost of repairs recommended by the home inspector exceeds a certain amount. So even if the seller agrees to pay for the repairs before you close, you can still walk away if you fear that the home will have too many structural problems down the road.
Here's a more detailed look at what is included in your written offer.
Put money where your mouth is: When the seller accepts your written offer, you pay what's called "earnest money" -- essentially a deposit that's usually up to 10 percent of the purchase price. If the deal falls through because the contingencies weren't met you get the money back. But if you just change your mind, the seller can keep the money.