In Illinois, we have something called Realist that an agent can sort by pre-foreclosure or bank owned. Pre-foreclosures are probable short sales and bank owned are REO's that are listed.Check with your local agents, find someone competent that you like and stick with that person. They can be your best advocate and help you find and negotiate a bank owned house. Often REO's are priced low and get multiple offers the first week. So going it alone doesn't work well as to being quick to see and write offers. The good inventory sells fast at or above asking price and the bad sits there. So you need to keep abreast of new one's that come on.
Best of luck!