2 bedroom/2bath, Realistic... 2 bedroom/1 bath, more realistic (you'll at least have more options in these neighborhoods, and more desirable locations).
For your price range you need to be open to possibly buying a unit with only one bath in any of these neighborhoods. It's not totally out of the question, but you need to know what you're walking into. Once you start working with a Realtor and get out there and see what you can get for your money, the idea of what you WANT vs. what you NEED will evolve.
You're right, you do need a Realtor who knows these areas inside and out. I work on North Highland, I used to cocktail at Hand In Hand, rented in the Emory area before buying my place in Inman Park.... have listed, worked with buyers, and sold homes in every area you mention - but so has a thousand other Agents. You won't have a problem find a Realtor who consider themselves experts in this area.
You will however have more of a problem finding a Realtor you mesh with. I encourage you to sit down with a Realtor at a bar or coffee shop or at their office (like Lee suggested) and get to know them, and let them get a better understanding of what you're looking for. If you feel comfortable with them, let he or she take you to look at a few things. Noticed how prepared they are, how much extra information about the property they can provide you upfront (ie: tax records, past sales, etc.), and how well they cater to you. Sometimes the most experienced Realtor isn't always the BEST Realtor because he or she may have too much on their plate or be too big for their britches. You should feel like your Realtor's #1 priority every time you're with them and speaking to them. Communication is key, and you should be able to see if they have that or not within the first week of working with them.
A Buyer/Brokerage Agreement is easy to break. All you have to do is give written notification to the Realtor and their Broker, and you're free! So, don't be scared of the contract, but like Lee said - don't feel pressured. I personally don't feel comfortable presenting this contract to my buyers until the 2nd or 3rd time I'm showing them property, unless we're submitting an offer before that point. I look at it as an interview process, but I do ask for some verbal loyalty, and it hasn't screwed me yet. Just be honest with whoever you're working with. We don't get paid until we get you through closing, so don't make us work our butts off, if you're going to close with another Realtor. It's only fair.
I think that's all I have to say! Thanks for reading through my ramble! Good Luck & if you have any additional questions or concerns, don't hesitate to contact me personally!
Sanctuary Real Estate, Inc.
300 North Highland Avenue Suite B | Atlanta, GA 30307
T: (404) 688-3363 | F: (404) 688-3372 | M: (404) 323-9976