You will want to find a lend and loan officer that are going to be there for you and offer all the possibilities that work for you.
As an example i have a mortgage officer Ive recommended since the 90's who is great with 1st time buyers,has very competitive rates,offers many programs that would suit your needs well and he is very patient and not pushy at all.
Personal recommendations are one of the best ways to find someone,you know first hand fom someone that the person they are telling you about will do what they say.
Definitely take the time to speak with a lender. There are great programs for first time home buyers. USDA is a program where the buyer doesn't have to put down a down payment. This program is also great to avoid monthly mortgage insurance. One of my clients recently moved into a townhouse for only $2,500 total out of pocket. You could always use the $6,000 toward some furniture and savings account. If you haven't found an agent I would love to work with you. Feel free to call or email me anytime.
Tammy Durbin, A-REO, e-PRO, GRI, SFR
Long and Foster Real Estate Inc.
It is best to get the ball rolling now with getting pre qualified and getting an agent with who you will be working with towards your purchase.
That agent can start sending you lisitngs to educate you on the market and educate you on the process so its as smooth as possible when you are ready with no surprises.
Good luck and enjoy your new home!
Then find a Realtor you like and form a real partnership with her/him to find your new home. They can set you up with emails from the MLS in your preferred price range. That way, when you decide to go out looking in person, you'll know a lot about what type of home is available.
Also, make sure advance decisions about where you'd like to live. Buyers who are unsuccessful are often unsure about where they want to be geographically and it leaves them too large of an area of consideration, becomes confusing and ends in frustration. Location is a decision you can make before you start to look -- based on commute distance, school districts, access to services, proximity to family, etc.
Best of luck!
Seeing properties in person also really helps to start to get a sense for what you like and what you don't and to develop a feel for what you get in your price range. After you've been looking for a while you become an expert of sorts in your price range - you'll instinctively know whether or not a price is "right." By the time spring rolls around you'll be ready when you see the right place. When you haven't done the advance work it can be difficult to know a place is "the one" if you're brand new to the market.
I'd also talk to a lender or two to find out what's possible mortgage-wise and if there's anything you need to clean up on your credit or pull together for your loan application.
Good luck with your search!