First, have your financing in order. I suggest taking it a step further than pre-approval. Get the necessary documents to your lender of choice so they can verify all of the info that you give them. There's a big difference between being pre-approved and having lender commitment...go for the latter.
Hard time picking a lender? Look at 3-4 and I suggest dealing with people in the community you will be living. It's easier to find them if you have an issue to deal with. Apply to all at the same time, then your credit report will only show 1 inquiry, instead of multiple inquiries (within 14 days).
Next, start looking now. If you go the short-sale or forclosure route, the process towards closing can get drawn out longer than a normal.
If you haven't found anything by March, you might consider discussing a month to month extension on your lease with the landlord. Always good to have your bases covered and know what your options will be.