Buying your first home when you are already "adulting" can be daunting especially when children are involved. Unlike the 20 something buyer who has few obligations, you must consider not only the immediate needs of your partner and/or children and pets but also your future needs as well. For you, this means when purchasing, you will want to minimize your investment risk and still keep future value at the top of the need list.
While purchasing a foreclosure, short-sale or distressed property is not out of the question, you need to seriously evaluate your discretionary income that could be used toward repairs and your available time to devote to sweat equity. With child, marriage, and work demands both are often in limited supply. More often than not, at this stage of life, you will want to look for a property that is fairly turn key or at a minimum make allowances in your offer price to address any pending issues such as an older roof or aging mechanicals. This can be done through a reduction in price or requesting seller assistance toward closing costs. The latter will free up available cash to deal with repairs if need be. And if you are handy, you can put your own stamp on your new home at the fraction of the cost. Rule of thumb: budget to hire professionals for any plumbing, HVAC, or electrical work. Cosmetic issues such as paint are doable DIY projects.
Another huge factor for your group is location. Before kids, most people prefer to be close to where the action is and a quick commute to work. That changes somewhat when kids and larger pets come into the mix. Depending on your social life and the commute in to work, you may want to be closer to town which generally means a smaller home or twon home with less yard. In Houston, that can also mean the added expense of private school as well if the inner city schools leave something to be desired. For this reason, I highly recommend you look to search engines such as greatschools.com or schooldigger.com to get an idea of school ratings. I also recommend calling the sherrif's department regarding crime statistics. A community that suffers the occassional teenage car break is very different from the one with three homicides this week.
With the exception of the buyers that really want that in-town experience, most homebuyers in your group are looking for a yard as for their kids and pets to play and to entertain friends. Depending on your price point, that could be closer in but more likely will require a move out toward the suburbs. Suburban life is different than living in-town and in Houston, master planned communities have evolved to address the needs of young growing familes by developing green spaces for parks, nature preserves, lakes and pools, hike and bike trails, community schools, sports complexes and sports associations as well as easy access to freeways, entertainment, restaurants, and healthcare. These amenities do not come cheap and buyers often must sacrifice lot size and pay a premium in HOA dues.
One final consideration: since this is not likely your last home, you will want to buy with resale in mind. Make sure that the community has values that are holding or increasing or at least have the potential to increase. You will also want to be cautious about purchasing new construction in a neighborhood that still has much to be built out as you will pay a premium for that new home. You can expect to need to remain in that home at least three to five years to break even on your initial investment and closing costs... sometimes even longer.
The best bet for ensuring a great investment at this stage of life -- one that will resell for higher value down the road but meet the needs of a growing family for 5-7 years -- is to hire a licensed agent familiar with the local housing market. For you more so than many other groups, it's helpful to have an agent that knows multiple areas of our ever growing county and adjacent counties.