How much house/land/investment can I/We afford?
Everyone's circumstances are different. Your time is valuable and the best answer to this question can probably be found in the office of a local lender - whether banker or mortgage broker. They can usually qualify you for a certain amount within one visit. With this information you can then know what price range to start looking in. Also, a buyer with a prequalification letter from a lender is always seen by the sellers as a more serious buyer.
How do I find the right home/land/investment?
Another time saver for you would be to spend some time defining what specifics you are looking for before looking at properties. For instance, in a home you will need to establish priorities for various features (i.e. # of bedrooms and baths, kitchen or mastersuite style, type of neighborhood, etc). Taos is an area where you can find anything from million dollar homes to earthships. Take some time to figure out what you absolutely need in a home and what you may be prepared to compromise on.
How can I look at real estate when I know absolutely nothing about the area or areas I am considering?
A good Realtor will take the time to listen to your needs - e.g., do you have kids and if so what ages?, do you have or want to have pets?, what are your hobbies or interests?, are schools important?, is quick and easy access to medical facilities necessary?, what do you look for in neighbors or do you want neighbors?, is this purchase a stepping stone or a permanent one?, etc, etc. If the Realtor you have selected wants to show you just one area or only their own listings then they are not keeping your best interests in mind.
Am I better served by working directly with the listing agency of a property I find on the Internet or in a published real estate guide?
The listing agent owes a certain fiduciary to the Seller and already has an established relationship with them. If they enter into a relationship with you they must disclose how they will be representing you. The qualifying broker of the listing agency can designate an agent within their office other than the listing agent to represent you as a buyer’s agent. A good buyers agent will find out as many things as they can about the property and the sellers that the listing agent might not be obliged to disclose.
Are we obligated to pay a Realtor for helping us find and buy a property?
In most cases the Realtor representing the buyers will get paid out of closing by the means of an instrument called a Listing Agreement. The seller has already executed this agreement enabling the Realtor to be compensated by acting as a buyer’s agent or simply being the procuring cause of the sale. Usually the Realtor will not be compensated unless a successful closing has taken place or you have engaged him/her for specific services with a pre-determined rate or flat-fee contractual agreement. Make sure this is disclosed to you before you sign anything and you know how your Realtor is going to be compensated.
How much, if any, negotiation is there in purchasing a home or land?
It totally depends on the seller and the seller’s particular motivation. Everything can and should be considered as part of the negotiation process. Price is not always the sole motivation for buyer or seller. The Realtor should take the time to find out what might be in the best interests of both parties and negotiate to best serve those interests. Many times, Realtors are only looking at one side and fail to see what and how the other party may benefit. Often there can be a win/win negotiation and that certainly helps keep everyone focused and motivated to successfully close.