I also have access to a great searching tool that puts the power of the search in your hands and allows you to save favorites, retain notes, receive automatic updates on your favorites, see school and demographic info and mapping - all helpful info but not often found in one place.
It is a good time given your goals to be looking - this time of year, homes - particularly those that are sitting and even more so those that are sitting and vacant, are possible bargains.
If you are interested, all I need is your email address to set you up.
Unwavering Commitment to Serivce
July 11 is not so far out so you are wise to begin your explorations now. You have a decided advantage, which is 'the eye'. I can't tell you how rare it is to find people that can look at a space and not be thrown by dated decorations, overly stuffed rooms, or an easily removed wall. I'm not sure if I've come across a generation of 'double click on setup' esthetics or why that is, but I do find that most people are simply myopic when it comes to identifying the pearl behind the clutter.
You're right that short sales are few and far between, and when they're around the value of the house on the market is irrespective of what is owed to the bank. We're not huge fans of short sales because of the time associated with being able to close some of them and because of the unreported problems there are conveying clean title. The bottom line is that if a house is worth $500K, as an example, it's worth $500K whether it's a short sale or not. it's short saleness does not reduce it's intrinsic value. it can however add significant complications and hurdles.
While your personal situation should include carrying two homes, etc. I would caution you about using that to value a house. A home you can't live in because it needs extensive renovation is worth what it's worth whether you have to carry rent, mortgage, or something else. Don't confuse your personal finances and cash flow with a given property's value. Certainly a home you can live in while you do work is more desirable, and there are plenty of those. The home may be worth less to you, which is fine, but it may not be worth less to others.
We completely renovated a kitchen in our second home in the South Mountain section of Millburn. This included taking the whole kitchen to bare wood and putting it back together again. We lived in the house while the work took place and we were out of a kitchen for exactly a week. Yes, we were control freaks and would not allow a any work to begin before every single new piece was on site (in our garage) and staged. it was a carefully coordinated ballet of contractors and subs, and it wasn't easy, but it was done and the results were amazing. This story could easily have been a two month project.
The short of it is that with your background and experience, you should be able to identify possibilities much more easily than others and then execute the work much better than others. This will certainly give you a leg up on scoping up the right home while others are still thinking about it.