Since having a real estate agent represent you is available at no cost (because the bank pays their commission), it's worth allowing them to handle the searching, paperwork and negotiating.
For more information on foreclosures, go to: http://www.syan.com/foreclosures
Syan Real Estate
Call/Text: (505) 730-8181
It's nearly impossible for an individual investor to speak directly to the asset manager. They don't have time to speak directly with individual buyers in most cases. That's why they have installed internet platforms and hire realtors to handle this part of the transaction.
The banks have a process for these sales, it is not complicated but it can take a while to obtain a foreclosure. I suggest you watch the listings in your area and find out what agent(s) deal with them the most, then contact them and tell them what you are looking for. Having contact with someone that focuses on them will be a major asset to getting into a foreclosure you desire. If you are willing to go this route, don't rule out bank owned or HUDs.
Foreclosures are not always the best bargain. The statistics show that they are the cheapest investment but you must keep in mind that the condition of these foreclosed properties are often far worse than any other type of sale.
To answer your question about buying a house directly from a bank; it is not done from my experience. All properties go through a listing agent. I do not recommend that you buy from the listing agent unless you are familiar with the sold comparable sales in the area and can confirm a competitive purchase.
You can try contacting the bank directly, but these days, they typically have a process for each asset that they think will maximize their return, and that now involves listing it on the market to the general public, typically on your local MLS via licensed brokers. I list them for BofA for example. However, they do still represent the best discount off market value these days. I am happy to send you some to consider in our area. Also, preforeclosure might be the better way, I can help you track folks down who have received lis pendens notices (>90 days past due) as well, just shoot me a txt, email, web message through Trulia, or call anytime! Happy bargain hunting Eric!