Congratulations on getting into the home buying state of mind! Theres a lot of information that you should consider and every area does it a little differently, so while I'll answer for the St Louis area, there may be a few differences with how things are handled in Perryville (I've represented a seller there, but we were selling raw land, not an existing home)
First, get a preapproval letter from a real lender - not a 1-800 late night TV or radio guy or the link that pops up on the computer, but a real reputable lender where the seller & the sellers agent are going to recognize the mortgage company's name. Sellers are very leery of accepting contracts from buyers who aren't preapproved by reputable lenders. Now, the credit bureaus realize that you are only going to buy one home, so if you check with several lenders within about a month of each other, it will only count as one hit on your credit - so check with several, don't make your decision based on the interest rate since that flucuates several times a day (like the stock market does), but look at the fees & charges that the company charges you & how you relate to the person you are working with. You want someone who is going to come to the closing table with you - not someone 3 states over & if there is a problem at closing you'll be playing phone tag with. Ask friends & family who they have used, they like & who is reputable. Check with your bank & credit union. If you are working with a Realtor, they will have a list of reputable lenders that they refer their clients to. DO NOT pay anyone any money until you KNOW that they are the company you want to use. You will not get your money back if you change your mind later.
At approximately the same time, start shopping for a good Realtor. You want someone who is responsive to you, who will listen & who will be there to represent you &protect your interests throughout the process. You want someone who will help to educate you on the local process Talk to your friends & find out who they have used & were happy with. If you don't know anyone who has bought or sold recently, let me know & I'll refer you to the Perryville agent who assisted me with selling my friend's property there. Find the agent that you are the most comfortable with, sign a buyers agency contract with them & then work with them to find the right home.
Now, & this is important, Once you find a Realtor & as long as the Realtor is taking care of you, be loyal to them & they will be loyal to you & they will take care of you. Don't play the game of stopping by open houses & new construction projects & asking all the Realtors to send you info. Find one realtor & stick with them - they can handle new construction, existing homes, condo conversions & anything else you can throw at them. Otherwise, what happens is that they will all be sending you the same information & you will be overwhelmed by it. If there are any differences, it won't be because one is doing a better job than another, it will be because you gave one a slightly different set of criteria than you gave the others. What you have set up is a nightmare for the agents, since there will be no real procurring cause. If you aren't being loyal to any one agent, why should any agent be loyal to you & work to find you the right home & protect your interests? If the agent you select doesn't work for you, then talk to him & tell him what you expect & if he doesn't improve, fire him in writing, but know that if he has shown you a home that you end up buying, he is still legally entitled to the commission.
3) While you will go through this with your Realtor, start thinking now about what you want and what you don't want in a home - and note that your list will change as you go through the home search process, but it's a starting point for when you sit down and talk to the Realtor and for when you start looking at homes.
Do you want to be close to work, school, church, your family, or ??
What kind of a home do you want? - a single family or a condo (keep in mind monthly condo fees) or a farm?
Are you the fixer upper kind of person, and do you have the money and time to fix up a home or do you need a home that is ready to move in to right away? (keep in mind that if a home needs too much fixing up, a bank will typically not give you a regular home loan and you may not be able to get an occupancy permit (if the area has them) to be able to move in right away, until the work is done)
how many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? Do you want a basement? A garage? Does the kitchen and bathroom(s) need to be updated? Do you want a fireplace? How about vaulted ceilings? a yard? (fenced or not?) main floor laundry? carpeted floors or vinyl or hardwood or ?? what else is important to you in a home
Plan on $500-1000 in earnest money applied to the purchase. Paying for your building inspection when it's done. Plan on a month between an accepted contract & closing