Shopping for an Agent
Your first step should be to shop for a Realtor, not to shop for property. Shop for a Realtor the way you would shop for a good attorney, accountant, mechanic, plumber, doctor, financial advisor, or other professional.
Now that we have the Internet, you have more information at your fingertips than buyers from the past. The web is a good place to start. There are lots of directories that list agents, plus search engines, too. Peruse the sites. If an agent has lots of information on their site and seems genuinely concerned about informing homebuyers, that's probably a better choice than someone whose web site only talks about how good they are.
The client should be the focus, not the agent. At the same time, agents have to market themselves aggressively -- or else you won't notice them.
If Automobiles were Houses
Imagine that automobiles are sold like real estate, with no more car lots or dealerships. Both new and used cars are just parked on the street. So if you want a Ford, there are no more Ford dealerships. No more Lexus dealerships or any other kind of dealerships, either. If you want to look for a car on your own, you just drive around and see what you can find. Even then, you can only look at the outside, because you don't have the keys.
There are some people that have the keys. They also have a computer that tells them where all the cars are parked, what model and year they are, what size engine they have, and how many miles are on the odometer. They get paid a commission for selling the cars.
Some of these commissioned agents just sit around and look at the computer, waiting for the phone to ring. Some of them go out and locate the new cars, physically inspect the interior and exterior, and flip on the ignition to listen to the sound of the engine. They are interested in finding the best cars so their customers refer future clients to them.
Who would you rather call?