If you are already working with an agent, be loyal to them and ask them to network with other agents they know to see what is coming up in their pipelines. Almost all agents have a website and the ability to email you homes whenever a new listing comes on the market that fits your criteria.
Dave Tap Tapper
Almost all agents have some sort of service that allows people to search the MLS for free, although you usually have to give them your contact info to gain access.
There are other sites that allow people to directly access the MLS, like http://www.atlistings.com and http://www.redfin.com, as Hawkeye has pointed out.
Gilbert brings up an interesting point about using the services of a Broker who offers a rebate. Unfortunately, the public knows that just because an agent gets paid 3% doesn't mean they are either a good agent or a good negotiator. Also, just because the agent can get the price down 5-6% doesn't mean the buyer paid fair value.
There are far too many agents that have listings priced 10-20% too high. So, even if the full priced agent gets 5-6% off the list price, the buyer is still getting screwed. That's not a negotiation. Buyer beware - there are far more poor agents working for 6% than there are who offer rebates.
A good agent will be able to tell you when a home is over priced, priced right, or under priced based upon recent sales of comparable properties. Then a good agent knows at what price the negotiation should start, end, or when to walk away. If the buyer wants to pay more for a home, that is their choice; however, a good agent makes sure it is an informed choice so the buyer knows they might be paying too much.
Be careful of services that always stress a rebate as a benefit, that usually is a tell tell sign of their inability to have superior skills that bring more value to you in their transaction.
Especially in a short sale and REO client you want someone who knows what they are doing. Especially when it comes to disclosures and inspecting the property.
And if you use Redfin to purchase a home, they will give you a cash rebate of 50% of the buyer's agent commission (up to 1.5% of the purchase price). This is automatic, you don't have to negotiate it. You can take the rebate as a credit to your closing costs or just enjoy a big fat check.
I'm looking in the same market as you are and using the Redfin free searches to identify homes. In my opinion, the best area in Belmont is along Hallmark drive, which is right by Fox Elementary and just above the Waterdog trail system (there is a trailhead just off Hallmark). These homes are pretty pricey though:
The next best is the pocket area circled by Lassen, Yosemite, and Tahoe drive. Again, very pricey:
There's a more affordable area with condos and townhomes a bit further down Ralston, on Continentals Way. They are very near the lower Waterdog trail head too and a little less pricey:
On the South side of water dog there are two row of very nice attached homes that lead to the major (rear) entrance to Water Dog. They are pricey and close to a concentration of Apartment buildings:
Finally, the area up above water dog on the south side is very nice (up Hastings Drive towards Club drive), but it's basically on a narrow ridge and therefore can be a bit windy:
Good luck in your search. And if you go with a traditional realtor, be sure to negotiate a rebate from their commission. If you know you can get 1.5% back from Redfin, there isn't any reason why a traditional agent can't match that rebate to earn your business. Make sure you put it in your contract though.
You have to be added onto it by a realtor or loan officer who uses the system. I do know that Dave Tapper with Cashin real estate uses the system. I like it because being able to search by school district, zip code and specific area in a city is rare in most free search programs.
Here is Dave Tappers contact information if you need it:
This is a buyer's market, there are many great homes in the Hallmark and surrounding areas available and priced to sell. Hallmark is one of my favorite area's in Belmont, there are sidewalks, and a wonderful neighborhood feel, great schools and easy freeway access.
If you would like a list of any of these more recent listings, feel free to give me a call.
Good luck to you and I hope you find your dream home.
#1 Producing Agent
Direct Line: 650-403-6225