Make a list of things you MUST have in a home and things you'd really LIKE to have in a home. Realize that you most likely won't find a house with everything on the 'must have' list, but it will still be perfect for your family.
On my must have list? A front porch!!!
Know your budget before you talk to the mortgage lender. They will always approve you for more than you're probably comfortable with paying. They basically laughed at us when we told them our goal purchase amount (which we only went over by $3,500!), but we knew it made sense for us long term even if we could afford something more expensive now. We wanted to buy something that did not depend on my income. It was hard to find, but we stuck to it because it was the most important aspect to us.
Work on projects slowly. As we've been searching and searching for deck furniture, we realized how fun it is to still have fun things to do! It can be tempting to have everything just right shortly after you move in, but the fun is putting things together thoughtfully, not just doing it to have it done. We still have entire walls that are undecorated, but I don't want to just buy anything for the sake of decor. We're waiting until we see meaningful things that we'd like to display in our home.
We had to de-princess and de-pink our future nursery!
On a similar token, I know I just said to work on projects slowly, but I wouldn't wait to paint. Painting around furniture isn't fun, so we painted everything, baseboard to ceiling, before we moved in (hence the month in between closing and moving). We waited until later to paint the porch since that's much easier, but it would have been a nightmare trying to paint around stuff, especially since we have tall ceilings in the bedroom and living room.
Fun fact: The expensive paint not only holds up better, but it doesn't stink!
Enlist help!!!! It will save you big bucks. Our family and friends were beyond amazing. My parents helped us purchase paint and spent an entire weekend painting with us, plus they brought all the supplies they had. My in laws came and helped with outside projects. Our friends moved us (while I was at work- sweet!) and have since come back to help Steven with projects like putting a vapor barrier in the crawl space. We usually say thank you with food, because who doesn't love food?!
Keep a running list of things that need to be done. That way you won't get overwhelmed about things getting forgotten, because they're right there on the list. We actually divided our list into three sections: projects for me, projects for Steven, and projects we do together. If one of us has some down time then we can knock something off our individual lists. The together projects are generally more time intensive (ie staining the deck) and require some planning where as the smaller, individual projects (ie hanging windchimes or cleaning out the fridge) can be done spontaneously, generally.
Yeah, we definitely hired out this project.
Remember that owning a house is different from renting in the sense that you lose your yearly or every couple year forced clean out. I moved about once a year to every other year all through college and after moving to Raleigh, which meant fridges and other things got deep cleaned as I moved out, and all my belongings got sorted, purged, and organized. Well now that we own, we have no built in reminder to scrub out the stove or clean out that closet. These are great things to put on your project list so you don't forget!
Don't forget to revel in the awesomeness that is becoming a homeowner with the person you love most. And remember that it's okay to not agree on paint colors, room sizes, or backyard slopes. It's a great exercise in communication and compromise, and you might just learn that your spouse has some decent ideas (like, ahem, when Steven insisted on an accent wall in the living room and I insisted we would have no such thing. Guess who has an accent wall and LOVES it?!) Even with the stressors involved in searching for a house, obtaining a mortgage, and getting moved in, there is nothing like day to day living in the home you own with your spouse!
Of course my 2 photo examples of reveling involve food ;). We did lots of picnics at the new house before we moved in and they made some really sweet memories!
As always, feel free to add your own insight/advice!