Location, Location, Location!
Everyone's heard the joke by now. "What are the three most important factors in real estate? Location, location, location." It's a joke as old as real estate itself, but it's never been untrue. The principle states that you can take two homes that are exactly the same and build them in vastly different locations and they'll have vastly different market values. Location is the most important factor of real estate. So when you're buying a new home, how do you find the best location?
The best method is to simply go there and drive around for an hour. As you drive, make notes of local stores, restaurants, traffic, services and condition. Once you have a list of some of the local features, look over it carefully. Is the home close enough to stores to provide convenient shopping, but far enough to minimize traffic? What about fire departments, hospitals and police stations? Of course, it's important to have all of these services nearby, you don't want to be so close that you're woken up in the middle of the night by blazing sirens.
Also pay attention to nearby schools. If you have, or you're planning to have a family, the schools in the area will be very important. You'll certainly want to be near the area's schools and you'll want to make sure that the school's you're near are highly rated.
Finally, determine what the commute will be like from home to work and back. Do a test drive of it - at normal business commute hours if possible - to get a feel for the traffic and the amount of time it will take you every morning and evening. Nobody wants to work too far from home.
Of course, there are other factors that you may want to take note of - land values, local entertainment, and the general aesthetic of the community, for instance - but convenience and comfort should be your first priority. It's good to have a location that will increase your resale value but it's better to have a location that you will be happy to live in while you're there.