Start looking and interviewing now! Look for a Licensed Agent who you "click" with, but more importantly will send you listings and show you homes at times that are good for you. Some Realtors do not work on weekends or nights, some will tire out after showing just a few homes if you have not decided to buy one yet. A few will be there for you for the long haul and help explain important things that you need to know, like the Law of Real Estate Agency... what your rights are by law. Just like window shopping or buying a car or finding a nice vacation spot, don't wait till the last minute and if you sign a "Buyers Agency" agreement be sure to read it carefully. If you sign such an agreement the Agent will expect you to NOT call any other Agent to show you a home, especially after they have put in a lot of time trying to help you. The ONLY way a Real Estate Agent gets paid is commission, with some very few exceptions. Some Agents do not ask that you sign such a form. I always ask clients to sign the form but promise to be there for them whenever they need me. Hopefully, when you start to look it won't take very long...after all it is a Buyers Market.
One more thing is that some things are negotible. Ask your Agent to check if there is an after market "One Year Warranty" and if not, ask if they would negotiate that into the deal at no cost to you. Some Agents will pay the $300 or so dollars themselves if needed to ensure you get a warranty, some will not. The seller should pay all commissions normally in most States and your Agent will be paid well.., so ask them to help you to set up your stratigy now as to what you can afford, consult a Home Loan Officer to find out what your monthly payments will be at the price you wish to be at and ask what your Loan Options are. Your Buyers Agent can help guide you but cannot give you Legal Advice in most States.
Make sure that if you buy a home that is also Listed by your Agent, you do not want them to have Dual Agency....make sure its in writting, even if its legal, how can they give the best service to their Listing client...and to you their Buyer at the same time? You want to negotiate for the best price possible..., but they are obligated and morally bound to get the best deal for their seller/Listing client too.
I hope this has helped a bit.
All the best in your search,
-Don Leske II / Associate Broker