The truth is that price is decided by the Seller and the Buyer. It's ok to for a Seller to have a hopefully high price. It's ok for a Buyer to make a hopefully low offer. The agent is there to facilitate and advise, not to keep some imaginary score card.
In my state, all licensees are required to treat ALL parties fairly and honestly.
Susanne, get referrals to agent from your friends, or call up a few floor agents, or somehow find some Buyer agents to talk to. Ask them that question.
Hopefully they will tell you that when you find the home that makes you say "yes!" then they will sit down with you at the computer and run comps on it. This will help you figure out a reasonable price range.
The rest is how much do you want the home?
If you make an offer that the Seller thinks is too low, your agent will encourage the Listing agent to have the Seller counteroffer. That might happen a few times.
Sometimes there is further negotiation after the home inspection. Actually, negotiation isn't over until the transaction is closed and funded.
Stay focused on the negotiations. It isn't always a train wreck--it can be subtle and persistant. And it isn't over until its over.
Best wishes, Linda
In fact, you may have a better idea than the home seller does, especially if the market has been declining and the seller doesn't realize this (or is in denial). Because of this, even if you make a fair or slightly below fair market value offer, there is a risk the seller will brush you off or make an unreasonably high counteroffer. Don't let that bother you. Don't let your agent pressure you into offering an unreasonably high number. Just be patient and keep making serious offers until you find somebody you can work with.
Since buying a home is usually one of the largest financial investments most people make in their lifetime, why would you choose to be unrepresented?
Think about this: most people buy or sell a house once every 5 or 10 years. Realtors transact business 5-7 days/ week every week of every year. How do you think you are going to come out ahead when the seller has professional representation and you don't?
The process of making an offer on a property involves many variables. What you need is an experienced Buyer Agent representing you to help evaluate these variable. There is no quick, rule of thumb way to do it. It involves comparable sales, days on market, your other terms, etc.
You will only buy or sell a few properties in your life - find someone who does it all the time to help you through this process.