I personally bought an REO property. I know the experience from the inside out. And I don't work with REOs as an agent at all.
REOs are represented by an agent for the seller, I am not aware of any exceptions to this, so you will almost certainly be interacting with a real estate agent whether you like it or not. That's because the banks, the sellers, hire real estate firms. I suppose a bank might have a real estate agent working on salary in-house, but all I have ever heard of is the bank paying a flat fee for the service to a real estate firm/agent.
I can't help but to point out that purchasing an REO is not the same as a conventional transaction and it has significant risks that may not be obvious. I did very well in the end, but it was rather harrowing for me!, and I'm a real estate professional.
In the NYC area, you absolutely need an attorney who is a real estate specialist, one who does nothing but real estate, and one who has been around the block a few times. I strongly recommend that you take your time and do a good job finding an attorney. (Other parts of the USA work this differently)
This is your first step, then you can find property. You might even find an attorney who can suggest a firm that handles a lot of REOs and you can save on the Property Shark subscription.
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson
New York, NY