I've been thinking about this for some time, and just need to get it out here:
1. KNOW your budget.
This seems like a no-brainer, but too many people expect the bank to tell them how much money they can afford to pay for a house. That's only half true. The bank is going to tell you how much they think you can afford to pay monthly, but there are things that they won't consider, like tithing, vacations, how much you like to spend at Christmas or on birthdays. If you want to have kids. Eat out. Go to movies every week, or every month, or never. So make your budget first. Track your spending. Track your saving! Decide how much you want to spend on your house payment, then include taxes, insurance or other impounds if needed. Throw in estimated utilities. Then tell the bank how much you want to spend monthly, and let them work out to see if you can afford to buy, or what you can buy for your money.
2. Don't forget closing costs.
If you are saving money for a down payment, be sure to have $4,000 - $6,000 EXTRA for closing costs. Sometimes they can be negotiated to be paid by the seller, but don't expect it. Also, don't ask the seller for them, and expect to get the house for a lower selling price. Be flexible, and decide what is more important to you - lower monthly payment, or lower closing costs.
2. - A - Know what the "norm" is in your area for possession. One place we lived INSISTED that the seller got 30 days to vacate their home. ALWAYS. The realtor's insisted on it. But that wasn't customary everywhere. For better or worse, know what the rules are in your area.
3. A starter home is meant to be just that - a STARTER home.
You don't need a HUGE house NOW for the family you hope to have in 10 years. Chances are, THAT home will cost significantly more, and you'll be "house poor" making those payments every month...so much so that you'll not be thinking of having kids...yet... Start small, and after a few years (4-5?) you can buy up.
Also, remember that kids haven't always had their own rooms. It's ok to put 2 (or 3) kids in one room, especially until they are older. We've got generations of people that don't like to share, aren't willing to cooperate, and have a sense of "entitlement" because they have been raised that way. (shame on us.)
4. Every home is a fixer up.
Take time, and sweat equity, to put your signature on your home. It doesn't have to all be done before you move in. It doesn't have to be done in the first year. It will get done before you sell it - usually just before you list it. :)
5. Be a good neighbor, and teach your kids how to be a good neighbor too.
If you have a dog, pick up the poo. If you have kids, teach them not to run between the houses (or not to ride bikes on other's grass, or driveways). Be friendly when you are walking around the neighborhood. Don't litter. Respect other's boundaries, and property. Don't mow before 8 am and after 8 pm. If you have a pool, be polite about the noise you make. If you know it's going to be loud - then either invite your neighbors, or let them know that there's a special event going on, and apologize in advance for the noise. If your neighbor mows his lawn, mow your own at the same time - it won't look as messy. Don't block your neighbor's mailbox, impeding mail delivery. Be mindful of trash days, and don't leave your empty cans out too long.
I think that's it. If i think of other things, I'll let you know!!