I've been looking at and dreaming about houses since I was 5. Only recently have Chris and I started seriously looking at homes with the intent that we hope to buy one relatively soon. Right now our face-time with the houses is perusing the MLS, but it's giving us a good gauge of what areas we would like to live and what is within our budget as we keep a close tab on prices.
By looking at the MLS, Chris and I have a good idea of different areas we could live. The neighborhoods we could live are now being narrowed down further after looking at which schools are best in the area. In most areas, where you send your child really does matter--especially in California where school quality tends to lag behind many other states. If you buy in one neighborhood maybe you are getting a great deal on a house as the prices of homes have dropped 40% in that neighborhood, but that neighborhood also has some of the worst performing schools in the area. Unfortunately, the best schools tend to be in the most expensive areas. I don't intend for us to be education-Nazi-like parents--making sure our kids go to the best-of-the-best school no matter what, but we do want them to go to a great school. Sending our kids to private school might be an option, but then you are talking at least $60k+ for a k-8 grade education per child. You might as well pay more for a house with a better public school, right?
Decisions, decisions. Amazing how you can spend time thinking about elementary, middle and high schools before you even have kids! :)
Anyway, now the nitty-gritty research (as I'd like to call it) begins. Everything from schools, to sex-offender maps, to loan-types, home insurance, etc... We're just approaching the 5 month mark before returning, I figure doing our homework now will get us prepared for jumping-in when we get back.