I'm being transferred to California from New Jersey and will need to find a new house for my family as soon as possible. My company provides some relocation help, but I'm going to have to do a lot of the legwork. How do I get started?
Before you even begin looking, make a wish list about your ideal house and neighborhood. You may well end up compromising, but this list will be a good tool for comparing houses. If a basement is a priority, better plan on building your own house, or look for a pre-1940 house -- for unknown reasons, post-WWII California specializes in "crawl spaces."
As to neighborhoods, if good public schools are a high priority, this will narrow your search -- sometimes dramatically. Decide how much time you're willing to endure on a freeway between home and work, or on public transportation.
Next, focus in a little closer. Figure out which communities will suit you and your family's wish list and budget. For help getting to know an area, see Nolo's article Researching the Best Places to Live.
Once you settle on a community, find a good real estate professional to work with. Get recommendations for a "relocation specialist," a real estate broker who has a thorough knowledge of schools, community services, and neighborhood features. Don't sign up to work with a broker until you've met with a few, and gotten references from satisfied homebuyers.
Finally, welcome to Nolo's home state. You will find a great deal of useful information in Nolo's book How to Buy a House in California, by Ralph Warner, Ira Serkes, and George Devine.