It was only very recently that I was in your shoes. The best advice that I ignored was to spend some time on OPBs ("other peoples' boats") before buying my own.
Right now you are asking some good questions but in many cases there is not one right answer. Instead, it will depend heavily on what you want in a boat. Right now, you have no idea what you want in a boat, besides the (correct) knowledge that sailing is awesome and you are damn well sure you want a sailboat.
So really what you should do is see what a few different boats are like. Maybe there is a local sailing club you can join, though most of them only have sailing dinghies. Look for a club or co-op that has boats in the 22-30 foot range. Around here we have a sailing co-op where for vastly less than the price of owning a boat, you get lots of time with their boats, and they will teach you a lot about maintaining a boat. If you can find something like that in your area, I would jump on it.
Another option is to get on a racing crew. "But I'm not all that interested in racing," you may say, as I did. Whatever. Pretend it's just a "daysailing crew". You will get to see how a boat's deck is organized and how her interior is laid out. The latter is especially important as it's almost impossible to change. Talk to the skipper and other skippers about why he made the decisions he did, what he likes about his boat, what he would change. Be open to the possibility that you will not be permanent crew on a single boat; seeing lots of boats is what's best for you right now. No amount of looking at pictures of boats and their interiors on the internet gives you as much information as five minutes in the cabin of a boat.
In they end you may be restricted by your budget, as I was. In my case, I got a reasonably good boat and it has taken me several years to figure out what I liked about it and what rubbed me the wrong way about it. Now I'm in a much better position to shop for my next boat, but even though I got a really inexpensive boat, the annual cost has added up quite a bit, and it sure would be great to have all that cash to put as a down payment on a boat I *know* I want.
1972 Catalina 27