Best of luck in your quest, Dunes
These are questions that your Realtor should be answering. Have you selected a Realtor to represent you? Normally the seller pays the sales commission, so from your perspective, the Realtor "works for free".
I recommend talking with a few REaltors, ask them questions, and find one that you think you can work with in a way that will help you get your answers. Some Realtors specialize in working with first time buyers.
Per Bill - you will get your deposit back if they don't accept your offer. It is held in escrow for you. The initial deposit is usually $1000.
You can have multiple credit checks run inside a 14 day period - for the same purpose - and this counts as only one check. What isn't good is doing loads of checks for different purposes (credit card, car, mortgage, etc). That can drop your credit score.
There are definitely deals for first time home buyers. If you are eligible, and buy before Nov 30 2009 - there's $8000. There may be others you can use, depending on your circumstances.
If your credit needs some help, then work on getting it better fast. Don't rush off and cancel any cards - that actually hurts your credit. Make sure that you are never late for any payments: car, cards, etc.
There are no dumb questions............
If you present an offer and it is not accepted by the seller you are entitled to a full refund.
If you repeatedly have your credit score checked, it can negatively effect it.
The present incentives are for first time buyers or people that have not owned a home for at least 3 full years.
Congratulations on beginning the journey of becoming a home owner.