I agree 100% with Mike. First time buyer, or experienced buyer, the first step is always to seek professional advice about what you can comfortably afford. You may discover that you can get more than you ever dreamed of, or you could just as easily find that your hopes are grander than your wallet. The biggest mistake you could possibly make is to get yourself into a property that you couldn't afford. It's not even a matter of how much you can possibly afford, the real question is how much can you COMFORTABLY afford.
That first step requires you to contact one and maybe more lenders and/or mortgage brokers. They will spend time with you and ask you a lot of questions about your finances. What you're really looking for is a pre-approval as opposed to what's known as a pre-qualification. It's harder to get a pre-approval, but a pre-approval is much more valuable. Not only will you need to answer questions about your finances, you will have to provide the lender with documents. They'll ask for W2s, bank statements, tax returns and things like that. Once they review the documents, they will be able to procide an approval letter that will pretty much guarantee you that you'll qualify for a mortgage, unless your situation changes.
When you know exactly what your purchase budge is, then you can work with a Realtor to help you find exactly what you're looking for, at a price that you can afford. A good Realtor is a good listener. You don't want a Realtor who wants to sell you a house that he/she likes, you want a Realtor that wants to sell you a house that you like, and the only way they can do that is to really listen when you are explaining what you want. They should have lots of good advice about what you should think about, but ultimately all of the choices should be yours.
It is completely realistic to expect to find a nice 4 bedroom home in the area that you describe. I would be happy to work with you to help you find it. I am thinking about communities like Spring Valley, Towngate and Pembroke Falls. All very desirable developments within your preferred area.
Don't forget that there are many additional costs involved in purchasing a home. Your Realtor will be able to provide good estimates of closing costs, taxes, HOA fees and PMI (private mortgage insurance). As I am sure you know, you'll want to move quickly on your purchase plans, because the government is providing an $8,000 tax credit that is meant to help you pay for your first home. You'll need to have agreed to a contract by April 30th, 2010, and you'll need to have completed the deal by July 1st.
Finally, a good Realtor will have lots of advice to help you navigate the complicated landscape of short sales, foreclosures and traditional (regular) sales. It's easy to fall into the trap of expecting short sales and foreclosures to always be your fist choice - believing that that's where the bargains are. The reality, however, is that short sales and foreclosures may not be particularly better deals, and there are a lot of frustrations involved. I am not saying avoid them at all costs, but I am saying that a good Realtor will help you anticipate what the advantages and disadvantages will be.
Best wishes on your home search - it's very exciting to be looking for the first real home of your own, and I personally love working with that type of buyer, because of the excitement and enthusiasm. If I can help you, please let me know. As a "Pembroke Piner" myself, it would be great to welcome you as the city's newest resident!
I hope this helps and I hope to hear from you!
Villa G Realty, Inc.