Sharon: The first thing to ask for is a homeownerâ€™s disclosure. While not mandated by law in NJ, they are the usual practice. My office would object strongly to an ownerâ€™s omission of this document, which is quite extensive. This should give you the current status of the major systems in the house and on the property. In this manner, you would either be able to judge for yourself or consult experts in the areas of concern. No agent with any sense is going to go out on a limb with a hard estimate of the TLC problems. They are neither contractors nor licensed home inspectors and shouldn't be "just guessing" but talking as if they had a hard definition of the situation.
Since your mobility is limited, I suggest you travel to the area to which you are considering a move and sign a buyerâ€™s agent agreement. You will find some who insist that they only represent the buyer and some who will become dual agents should the opportunity arise to show you a property listed by their agency. I recommend the later, since it opens the number of agents and firms rather dramatically. At any rate, you might interview several agents to find one who understands your needs and is compatible to your personality. Amazingly, not all of us are universal.
If you find an agent you can depend on, have the agent preview homes for you. Insist that he/she do the legwork in advance. Then, when you are up to a tour, have that agent take you to the houses that they feel are right for you. You may miss a few that you would like that the agent has rejected but you will see the ones that the agent thinks most appropriate, getting the most out of your resources of strength.
You will have to be a little patient with your agent, because they will not be fully cognizant of your tastes until they have worked with you for a while and you may even change your criteria when you see something you like. I have had people say they would NEVER buy a specific type of home or a specific area, only to find they wanted to see something in that exact specification that they discovered on line or in an ad.
The agent will be doing more work for you as well, running around looking at houses to be sure you will get the most out of your available travel resources. The thing that you should give them in return is the buyerâ€™s agent agreement and your loyalty and candor about what you see and why you like or donâ€™t like a property.
You should also be fully prepared with your budget and the source of funds to conclude the deal. Starting out without this can just waste everyoneâ€™s time looking for things beyond your means.
Most agents are delighted to be of service. Thatâ€™s why they stay in the business. Just remember to be fair and reward their best efforts and correct those efforts that are misguided. No one is either perfect or has total knowledge of what will work for you.
Best of Luck.