The good news is that there are many places that could meet your needs. Our real estate prices have come down in the last four years making many well constructed houses with in your reach. I never thought that I would see an interest rate for a FHA 30 year fixed loan at 3.75%, so the loan terms are in your favor too.
I would agree that Belmont, Fort Mill, Davidson, Cornelius, Matthews, Mint Hill, Pineville, Huntersville are good places to call home, but so is Charlotte. When building industry was booming, we saw national, regional, and local builders creating similar subdivisions all over Charlotte metro. Land prices, house plans/materials, and school assignments help determine the price. Take a national company, like Pulte, you will see their houses in Charlotte, the surrounding towns, and into the neighboring counties.
As for dog friendly, there are dog parks, greenway trails to walk dogs, and plenty of sidewalks in Mecklenburg county. Go to the Charlotte Mecklenburg government website to find out about the parks. I think that it is http://www.parkandrec.com.
The best way to get a feel for a place is to walk the neighborhood on a weekend, visit playgrounds, libraries, sit in coffee shops and ice cream parlors. Listen and watch how the people act. By the way, if you do visit Fort Mill, there is a great ice cream shop in Baxter Village. Ben and Jerry's is a great stop in Davidson, NC. There are free magazines and local papers published in each section that has been suggested to you.
Now for churches, it depends on what sort of church you prefer. There are churches with contemporary worship, and ones with main line denomination styles of worship. In South Mecklenburg, you will find some very large churches that have programs every day of the week, day care, schools, & community outreach. In North Mecklenburg, you find a large number of contemporary churches. There are churches that meet in public schools, commercial buildings, YMCA's here, as well as the ones that own their buildings. Many of the churches here have their own websites with their newsletters, events, and service schedules on-line. If you tell me what kind of church and worship that you prefer, I can make suggestions.
Wishing you success and happiness here,
Robin Faison, broker
Keller Williams Realty