Access to the MLS is easy. No, you don't need to know an agent or pay money. Greathomes dot org is very close to real time.
Now one word of caution. Nothing, not even sites claiming to be linked to the MLS is all that accurate. These source are manipulated all the time. That includes agent portal sites. Example: houses in Novato had increases in price and then went to short sale and sold far below the asking price before the short sale. The effect is that after the sale, one would think that the house sold for more than asking when the opposite was true.
This happens far more often that you think. Take all of this data with a chunk of salt, especially when checking on comparables.
Beware that right now, what is going on in Novato and the Bay Area in general is the same thing that went on before the housing market bubble crashed. Multiple offers quickly going far above asking. many of these buyers are investors picking up flippers. They buy and within weeks put it back on market after some minor "fixin". Many investors are also buying up homes for the rental market.
Recently, a house on Olive was offered at $245k I think. 17 offers and sold for $301k. Where did $301 come from? How did someone manage to hit that number? They should be going to Vegas. You guess how THAT happened. You have to wonder why they aren't winning the lotto.
Disclosure: I did not offer nor had any interest in that property.
There is a lot of irrational buying going on. Sure the inventory is low but that isn't because there are no houses, they are just a shortage of owners able to sell.
Then watch the houses dropping out of escrow. About 20%.
Don't forget some warning signs on houses that get flipped. Rarely is there a new roof and often they need one. Watch out for new stucco. While it is nice and if properly done can add value but it can also cover up some real nasty problems. once new stucco is applied, finding out what was underneath is almost impossible, until some time later when you end up with the problem.
When you see a house for a really good asking price, go look before it sells. note any repair needed issues, many are easy to see if you know how to look. Then when it comes back on market look again if you are interested and didn't get it the first time. Look at baseboards, eaves, the roof and those other areas that telltale a fast look nice fixer that didn't address some what could be major problems.