Hard time picking a lender? Look at 3-4 and I suggest dealing with people in the community you will be living. It's easier to find them if you have an issue to deal with. Apply to all at the same time, then your credit report will only show 1 inquiry, instead of multiple inquiries (within 14 days).
Next, start looking now. If you go the short-sale or forclosure route, the process towards closing can get drawn out longer than a normal.
If you haven't found anything by March, you might consider discussing a month to month extension on your lease with the landlord. Always good to have your bases covered and know what your options will be.
Her web site is under construction, but feel free to look. http://www.quadcitiesmyrealteam.com
You will want to select a competent loan officer with a bank, credit union or mortgage broker and start the pre-approval process for financing now. In addition, if you haven't found or selected one yet, you should hire a buyer's agent to represent you in the transaction.
Melissa suggested considering bank-owned properties. I recommend that you also consider purchasing a home that is being marketed as a short sale. The process often requires more time and patience; however, the savings can be tremendous for the consumer.
Best wishes - Ted