Your decision is smart and a good one. Of course you have several options (outside of 401k).
I am not sure which City / State do you live but OH, PA, IN are all strong rental markets with reasonably priced homes (older ones). but try not to buy fixer upper / too old ones which require tremendous maintenance. If you can bootstrap 10,000 to 20,000 $ you can land up a local deal. Don't expect the very first deal to be too profitable but a good start and experience for you.
Funding for your 1st property: If you have a decent credit score try a CREDIT UNIONS (not the BIG B.S Banks!) or other lenders of repute.
Make sure the TITLE IS CLEAR and you get WARRANTY DEED on the property AND the land on which the property sits. Go with a good title company who will take care of everything including escrow until closing and an agent. If you know someone well who you can trust, and who is into real estate take him/her with you.
I wish you success in your venture
May 6, 2014