Ken, Get a good inspector if you're serious. They will look for signs of dampness in the basement, ants, termites, faulty construction, old roofs in need of replacing, the condition of the furnace--you name it. My father and brother were both carpenters, and we made sure one or the other went along when we thought we might be serious. Go once by yourself. If you're interested, take a builder with you. Pluses, of course, are hardwood floors, wood trim, insulated windows, newer roof, furnace, adequate cupboard and closet space, city sewage, all utilities, including gas.(Oil furnaces cost much more to run.) Of course, you'll want to ask to see the last year's utility bills, check for the location of schools, and the quality of the district, condition of the street and sidewalks, gutters, downspouts.
There's so much to look at! Frame homes need frequent painting. Aluminum siding fades. Is the lot well drained? Is it fenced in for the dog? That's a plus. Take your time, and take an expert! The bank will also inspect the home before approving the loan, but that's a little late when you have your heart set on a specific home. Good luck! Keep us informed. It's so exciting, but be careful. Oh, and ask about the neighbors, by all means, crime rate, etc.
p.s. You will spend less buying directly from the owner, but a real estate agent will be able to save you time. They know where the houses are and what their best features are.