This is one of those questions that I could literally write a book on as far as what is the best investment for a first time home buyer. First things first though and a huge congrats on taking the first step towards home ownership by asking the right questions and gathering as much quality information as you possibly can. Just be sure to know who you are asking as their answer could very well be skewed by self serving interests.
Now, back to your questions. There are so many ways to go about answering this. Strictly from a financial perspective, you'd ideally want to invest in a home where your monthly payment (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) is less than what the monthly rent would be. Of course, if you can buy a property for under "fair market value", then this will put you in an advantageous position right out of the gate. Other things to look out for include finding properties that have the potential to add value/make improvements and properties that are in up and coming neighborhoods. I'd also strongly encourage looking at the historical prices in various neighborhoods to see where prices have been and where they could possibly go.
I believe your question is really focused on the financial aspect of the home purchase, but I would also like to point out that it is a huge emotional investment. You/your family's safety, security, schooling, friends, et.al will all be affected by where you end up buying your first place. Thus, from this perspective, the best investment is one where you feel the most comfortable on all those fronts.
As noted from the get go, this question sparks an answer that would take too long to address on here. Should you care to discuss in greater detail or look into actual neighborhoods that may work best for you, please feel free to reach out.
Chad Basinger, REALTORÂ®, CPA, CFPÂ®