This is another question that I get fairly frequently, especially from first-time buyers. There is no answer that is correct for everyone, but it's something you should definitely talk to your REALTOR about as you start your search.
When you sit down with your real estate professional before you look at your first homes, you probably have a basic idea of what you want; things like how many bedrooms or bathrooms, bungalow or 2-storey, and maybe even what part of town! But maybe not. Everyone starts at a different point, but my goal is to help you decide what's most important.
Part of my interview process with my buyer clients includes some questions that are more difficult to answer than the "easy" ones above. I ask things like "how do you want to feel when you come home?". Asking you about your interests is also important when I talk with my clients. Do you like gardening? Do you want to be able to walk downtown? Is being close to shopping important? Do you want to be near a bike path, ski hill, or lake? Do you want to be close to child care and schools? How close do you want to be to your in-laws?!
Some buyers are also interested in a particular style of home. Some of you are dead set against doing any lawn work, so maybe a townhouse or condo would suit your needs! Perhaps you like a lot of "character", then perhaps a century home would be right up your alley. Maybe you're social and living in a tight-knit suburb works for you.
You may hear from friends or family not to buy "the first house you see. Shop around. See as many as possible so you know you're making the right decision." Although this may not be terrible advice, don't let it stop you from doing what feels right. Often times, the more you see - especially if they are all similar properties - the more they get muddled in your brain. This process can be stressful, so if you find something you like, don't let it go!
When I was wedding dress shopping a couple of years ago, my sister, Carrie, was VERY excited about going into a ton of stores, picking out a million different dresses, and sipping champagne while I struggled in and out of every gown that caught her eye. Much to her disappointment - and my delight! - I bought the first dress I tried on. Luckily for Carrie, the champagne still came later :) Sometimes you just know! Conversely, my husband and I looked at probably 75 houses before we fell in love with our first home.
Will you have that WOW feeling when you walk into a house? Maybe, maybe not. Does that mean it's not for you? Maybe, maybe not. There are so many factors to weigh when you're buying your home. But you don't have to do it alone. Your REALTOR is a great resource, not just for looking at physical houses, but also to give you input on different neighbourhoods in your city or give you contact information for other professionals that you might need to help you make a decision.
You were probably looking for a direct answer to this question...unfortunately, I can't give it to you. Nobody can. You have to make the decision that fits best for your lifestyle, and take as much or as little time as you need. Just know that your REALTOR should help you along the way if you need and want it, and there should be no pressure to buy something you're not comfortable with. Ask lots of questions. Ask your REALTOR what questions you should ask! We're here to look after your best interests, and there are no stupid questions.