When you are ready to start looking at properties, contact a REALTOR who lives and sells in the area you want to buy.
Hope this helps -
Best of luck,
You can start your home search on my website at http://www.YourSoCalAgent.com. There are several resources for you to use.
Century 21 Beachside
Good luck and contact me when you are ready to go.
I have to congratulate you on your proactive approach to planning and strategizing early. Thom has given some very wise. I would even suggest talking to a lender (an exceptional one that looks at your long term strategy) and find out if there are ways to improve your credit over the course of the next year.
I would also get clear on the things that are most important to you in your new home and zero in on the city(s) and neighborhoods that interest you most. Over the course of the year, I'd be monitoring the inventory in those areas. Watch the market, prices, and conditions so that when you are ready - you are well educated and informed.
Don't hesitate to call me if you ever should have a question.