Great time to buy as you are likely hearing. In West Oakland where you're looking, there are some great buys, mostly foreclosures. Many of them need work, so it is important that you work with an agent who can help you assess the amount of work a house needs. Foreclosures/REOs do not have inspections or disclosures about the property... so you as a buyer are on your own. It is all the more important to work with a realtor who can help you get qualified professionals in to assess the property, get legitimate inspections and prices for work needed, and act as your advocate. There is indeed a whole process, that you should go over with a realtor you are comfortable with. It is very important for you to work with a mortgage lender you are comfortable with as well..one who can access all banks and first time programs to evaluate what is best for you and your needs. A good realtor can recommend a good mortgage lender, if you don't have a good lender. May I recommend an excellant mortgage lender in Oakland, (regardless of what realtor you use): Holmgren and Associates Mortgage, Oakland: http://www.Mortgageholmgren.com/
They've been a local lender, and very involved in the community for a very long time...had no part in the mortgage meltdown or questionable loans. Total integrity. They will advocate for your best interests and even refer outside if need be, (which is rarely necessary). I often use Mari Parsnick, my favorite consultant there. My clients have loved working with her and say she has gotten fantastic loans and worked hard to get the best deal for them.
If you know the neighborhoods in west Oakland you are comfortable and familiar with, that is major.
Talk to people, get referrals, and check out any and all realtors you talk with. Ask for referrals.
I am happy to talk with you about any of this. I enjoy working with first time buyers and have lots of resources.
The best of luck in your search!
Ellen Lynch, Realtor
Keller Williams Realty, Oakland