Let me walk you through our thought process and timing that led us to our house-hunting.
Even before we got married, we knew we wanted to buy a home in the near future. We've been actively saving for a good number of years now, but (for me), the saving was always done kind of off-handedly. We saved aggressively, sure, but I always believed houses to be wildly expensive and therefore out of our financial reach for the next few years.
I kept hearing people commenting on how great interest rates were, and I would just kind of nod and hope they didn't push the topic and expose me as someone who can't actually speak intelligently about interest rates (like I did here). Then, February 2012, about 36 hours before we re-signed our 12-month lease, my mom commented to me that she wouldn't be surprised if we could find a home in the Pittsburgh area that would have a lower mortgage than what we paid in rent.
I scoffed, because clearly she (the home-owner) had no idea how expensive homes actually were. I (the apartment-dweller) was vastly more informed about the realities of our situation.
But, curiosity got the best of me and I popped onto Trulia to poke around. Sure enough, according to the estimated monthly mortgage payment that accompany each listing, we were spending more on rent than we would be on a mortgage. I was completely shocked. Like I said, we were 36 hours from re-signing our lease. I wasn't comfortable taking the plunge into house-hunting based on this really recent revelation so I just pushed it to the back of my head and decided to carry through with our plan to stay in our apartment for another year.
While we were in the rental agency's office, resigning, we asked about their flexibility when it comes to breaking a lease or extending a lease for moving to a home. They, no joke, laughed in our faces, and said that their leases are 12 months, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We could break the lease and pay a lot of penalties, and they offered no form of extension shorter than another 12 months. Billy and I were trying to be sneaky and communicate our thoughts about this to each other while in the same room as the rental agent. He typed "I think this will be our last lease with [Rental Company X]" in the "Notes" app of his phone and passed it over to me. I revised it to say "I think this will be our last lease" and passed it back. His eyes got big and he gave me a quizzical look. As soon as we could sign the lease and get out of earshot, I explained what I had seen on Trulia. We evaluated our finances and decided that we wouldn't re-sign our lease in February 2013. We set a goal of moving from our current apartment to a house, meaning we needed to find a home by the end of July 2013. Now we just had a year to sit around and think about what that meant.