I purchased my first home when I was 26 or 27, so it's really OK to purchase whenever you're financially and emotionally ready for it. The process from home search to closing can take as little as one month to a couple of months...but it doesn't hurt to go to open houses and other things for the time being to see what all is out there in the different areas that you'd consider living in to narrow it down. Lenders look at your credit scores, your payment history, 2 years of tax returns, and most recent pay stubs to see if their investors think you're a good candidate for a mortgage loan. Currently with an FHA loan, you'd need at least 3.5% down. If you're buying a foreclosure, you'll most likely need proof of funds and perhaps even more money down.
There are some programs that will still do 100% financing, but not very many. One is the USDA Rural Housing loan, which is an option if you purchase a home in what's considered a "rural" area of the Triangle ( few parts of Wake and Durham Co. still qualify as rural). I think State Employees' Credit Union also has 100% financing options available to some of its customers. Your lender will analyze your debt-to-income ratio to make sure that you can handle the mortgage payment ON TOP of all of your other expenses and debt. The ratios differ depending on the type of loan you get. There are also loans available for first time home buyers through the NC Housing Finance Agency; however, recently their interest rates have been higher than FHA and VA interest rates.
You may want to consider purchasing a home that you can "grow" into over the period of a few years. Your family status may change, your job may change, and there may be other life changes in general that you can anticipate. It's important to choose a home that you think will meet your needs for at least 5-7 years in an area with good re-sale values so that you get the most bang for your buck. I have a list of the top appreciating subdivisions by area if you're interested in finding out more.
If you decide to get roommates, you may want to hold off on that decision until after you close on the house you choose...the extra income anticipated from the roommate could affect your qualifying ratios for certain loan products...but I'm not an expert in lending. I have a few folks you can talk to or email if you'd like. Sheri Rimel with Residential Community Mortgage/Wells Fargo is very informative (and we were friends long before I got into real estate). Her email address is email@example.com. You can also email Dan Flynn with FM Lending at firstname.lastname@example.org. He's the lender who has an affiliated office in our building (but we don't get anything for referring him to folks...he's just very knowledgeable and convenient).
Before you start house-hunting (maybe 6 mos to 9 mos out), you'll need to make a list of all of your "must haves", "would like to have", and "don't wants"... it will help your Realtor conduct better searches for you. (bedrooms, bathrooms, sq feet, flooring preferences, price ranges, exterior siding preferences, commute distances, age of the house, garage or not, townhome, condo, or detached home, amenities, preferred subdivisions or areas, etc.). Before you go see any homes, you'll need to meet with a lender to discuss your options and get a prequalification letter (generic letter that lets the agent know you're qualified to shop in the price range you're looking in). Once you find a house and submit an offer, it takes about 30-45 days with a re-sale home and can take lots longer if it's new construction.
Hope this info helps. If you have any other questions, feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to working with you in the future when you're ready to buy. If you happen to know of anyone else who's currently looking to buy or sell, I'd love a chance to talk with them. Thanks and have a wonderful afternoon!