The most important thing you can do right now is find some local audio shops...several of them. Set up a time and go and listen to all sorts of various speakers to decide what sort of "sound" you prefer. Many brands have a unique sound that is their own and this speaks to many people almost immediately.
You need to listen to a variety of speakers and brands, including items outside of your price range so that you can learn what to listen for, what you don't like, etc. Also make sure you listen for several minutes, in many cases the speaker that "grabs" you immediately will turn out to be fatiguing or harsh or bright...sometimes a speaker that sounds ever so slightly veiled upon first hearing it, will wear the best on your ear and will provide hours of enjoyment.
Let me give you a personal example:
I've always been an audio guy, I love it, my dad loved it, though he couldn't afford anything good...I worked at Best Buy and heard a lot in my 6.5 years with them, some not too bad, and a whole lot of junk. After I finished school, I new it was a matter of time before I started building a system. Well in 2007 I began auditioning various speakers. The one's that spoke to me first were the Klipsch RF62's, they weren't boomy, they were very articulate and the movie demos I brought along to audition were somewhat impressive...So I was pretty set on Klipsch after my first 15 minutes (I left with a mild headache, didn't think much of it). So I did more research, read a lot on here and then visited another local audio shop and was introduced to Paradigm. Listened for probably an hour, various material and was pretty impressed with the Monitor 9. It wasn't boomy like the 11 and yet it had more midrange detail and had a lot lower reach then the monitor 7 which sounded almost hollow in comparison...
My looking went on for a couple months and during that time I auditioned the Klipsch several more times for 15, 30 or 45 minutes and what I realized was the speakers were too harsh/bright to my liking. They fatigued my ears with any more than 15 minutes at moderate volumes and in more than one case left me with a headache.
I say this not to bash Klipsch, several friends have them and they are GOOD speakers, but my point is my first choice ended up NOT being my choice at all after further listening. The sound just isn't for me. If you have hardwoods and typical walls, you may want to look for something regarded as neutral or even a bit warm. But ultimately it is YOUR ears that must make the choice. The only way you can make a good choice is to listen, listen and listen some more with material that you are intimately familiar with.
I ultimately wound up getting a superb deal on some Swan Diva's on clearance so I took them sight unheard, BIG risk...but I had done my homework and new that I could sell them on audiogon for what I paid for them new. So I took the plunge...they showed up and at first I was quit disappointed. The detailed but slightly warm sound I had read about seemed to be non existent. Instead I had a rather harsh speaker for upper mids and highs and some of my favorite material sounded really bad at one point.
I was kind of freaked out...but we were going out of town for the weekend so I decided to pop in a CD, put it on repeat and feed them some music for three days and then the next week while I was at work (I did no listening in between because I didn't want to taint my ears and become accustomed to the sound). After probably 150 hours of break in the speakers sound quite good and I've been very pleased. They aren't the greatest speakers but they're quite good...
Again, moral of the story...LISTEN, LISTEN and LISTEN!