"Be patient and you CAN get what you want!"
How I did it: We started the process in 2/09 with a mortgage broker friend to find out what we could afford. We set out with our realtor in March and found the house we wanted that same day. We looked at dozens, but that house was the largest, with the best backyard, and was worth the low low price! The only drawback was it was a short sale. Little did we know that short only means long.
We put in an offer that same weekend, but there were also several other offers at the same time. We had to go through a best and final in which I had to ask my mtg broker for more money. We won the B&F. Then we waited. Waited some more. More waiting. Finally we were told to do the inspections in June. The appraisal came back, $10K LOWER than our offer, so had the bank accepted our offer and closed back in March, they'd be $10K richer! But no they are slow, stupid retards, and so we lowered our offer by $10 grand.
We waited some more, I got screwed over by my apartment complex and was nearly homeless (all of this while I was in the middle of planning a wedding 11/7/09, mind you), and we finally got word in August that things were moving along.
Finalllllllllllllllly, we closed 9/29/09! It took 6 months, but we finally got our house!
Lessons & tips: Patience, is not only a virtue but a necessity! If you have the time to wait, a short sale can be great! (hey that rhymes! - copyrighted!) Otherwise avoid short sales, foreclosures, REO, bank owned and run for the hills! Buy now, as the market may heat back up soon.
Resources: Go find a housing non-profit in your community and take a class. They are a library of knowedge of the in's and out's of RE and know how to get you good deals, loans, etc.