Here try this real answer since no one wants to answer directly.
Right now. Your criteria was to buy by February so you start looking now. The idea that you need to get pre-approved before looking isn't correct nor is it true that getting the pre-approval is the first thing you need to do.
The very first thing you should consider doing is narrowing down the type of house you want; lot size, location type (country vs city vs burb), proximity to schools, shopping and quality of neighborhood. Making a list of what you want, getting pre-approved and then getting a buyer agent to show you houses is the fastest way to regret. Why? Because you gave away control to someone else.
Instead, consider, looking around, just looking with that mental picture while at the same time you apply for that pre-approval. Why some think you can't do more than one thing at a time amazes me, you can.
As you look around, you're going to get some good ideas and a feel for the areas and type of locations you like. Just looking by yourself lets you discuss the pros and cons openly. We all know the feeling we get when test driving a car with a sales person in the back seat right? You don't have to do that and researching the neighborhoods, the schools, the commute, stores and things like that are easily done by you, the person who buys the house. You will get unfiltered information. You can talk with friends or others you know, the municipal or country planning dept about zoning and the assessor's office about taxes. Get all this info first hand, you'll be glad you did because you know it will be right, without bias or conflict of interest.
When your pre-approval comes in, you already have a good idea of the house you want and where you want it. Make a list of "must haves", things you can't do without. Then add in "nice to haves" and finally the "icing on the cake"
After you've done this (it doesn't take very long) now you are armed with the information that makes you an informed buyer. If you decided that you want to use a buyer agent, as part of your preliminary info gathering you got recommendations from trusted people about a good agent or agents. DO NOT SIGN A BUYER AGENT AGREEMENT. Anyone telling you need to do so isn't looking out for you.
Now you negotiate your buyer agent commission. Yes, you do pay that commission, the money always passes from you to others and then to the buyer agent so in reality, YOU are paying it. Read my blog about this pet subject. Never think you must use only one buyer agent. You have have more than one and let the best agent showing you the best house win. Take control. They might not like it but it is YOUR house and this is about YOU not the agent.
So, in short order, you've looked around, obtained critical decision making information, narrowed the possibilities and have negotiated a buyer agent relationship. You are now on the straight fast track to getting the house you want, not what someone else wants to sell you.
If you started today, you could have all this done within 2 weeks. That means the rest of the time available is spent looking at houses you already know will meet your criteria or be close to it. Plenty of time to offer and close in Feb or thereafter.
The trick here will be to take your time but don't be lulled into thinking you can just let time go by. If that house that is a super match comes up, you want to be able to move on it. If you chose a good buyer agent, they should not have a problem with your waiting to close an escrow until Feb. That is what they get paid to do, negotiate that offer acceptance according to your terms, even with a longer escrow. It will probably take you a month or month and a half to narrow everything down anyway so an end of Feb close date comes up quick.
The best way to make sure things go your way is to prepare. The best way I think to prepare is to do it yourself before engaging someone who will earn a commission based upon the sale. The reasons should be obvious. Don't get rushed but go about this process in a methodical and through manner.
Please remember one thing. There is always another house and don't fall in love with a house until after escrow closes. If someone tells you that you need to offer right away and can't give you a reason why without double-talk, look elsewhere. Yes, sometimes a super deal comes up but more than not, a fast sale is a fast commission. Screaming will follow but in most cases, once that escrow closes, people become scarce. I know, some will say different but that is the exception, not the standard. You might get lucky and get a calendar and bottle of wine or something but that is about it.
The joy of buying that house that meets your needs and wants rests with the preparation you do yourself, before even talking to an agent. Get to know the acronyms, the standard phrases and how to inspect a home's condition during even a 15 minute open house to avoid getting into a repair disaster.