Before I answer this question, let's begin by stating a solid truth; you should seriously hire a Realtor when you are seriously ready to purchase your home. OK, now that I got that off my chest, I wanted to share with you the very thing I share with my buyer clients.
I have been a licensed real estate agent since 2001 and I joined my local, state and national real estate associations in 2002 taking the oath to uphold the Realtor Code of Ethics which is what transitioned me from "real estate sales-person" to REALTOR. Why did I get my real estate license? I bought my first home in 1999 and I used a Realtor to help me through the process. To this day, I will never say a bad thing about her but I remember closing on my first home with 2 regrets... not buying the home I fell in love with first and not understanding more than 75% of the process. After I closed on my home, I knew that I was destined to become a Realtor to take all of the GOOD experiences from my purchase with me but to improve all the NOT-SO-GOOD experiences.
She had a "list" of homes for us to see. If she was truly paying attention, she would have noticed that my interest peaked early and nothing else quite compared but I was never asked to make an offer. I was totally nervous so there was no way I would volunteer to her that I was ready to make an offer. I was going to need to be coached and massaged into taking the biggest step of my financial life. I was 25 years old and home ownership was not commonplace in my family background. I was also still relatively new to the area...all things that were easily uncoverable with some attention to my needs and the source of those needs.
So this experience has brought me to the point where I council my buyer clients. Seasoned buyers get a slightly different version but new buyers all get the same consultation from me that includes me learning about what they WANT first and foremost and then what they NEED and ultimately, what they can afford both on paper and then practically as those two numbers tend to be very different. Once I learn their "WHY" then I comb through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to weed out everything that has nothing to do with their "