I would start by having your agent contact the listing agent's broker of record. It seems there are many foreclosure agents who are trying to represent the both the buyer and seller on every transaction and may not represent other offers coming from other agents appropriately. It seems odd if the property is still active.
I believe the prices will trend up slowly and steadily for the next 3 years in most of the major markets for a couple reasons.1. There have been fewer new homes built in each of the last few years than we have seen in decades. The low supply of homes has already made it very difficult for buyers to get an offer accepted in Southern CA and San Diego where I do business because it is so competitive.2. It is cheaper to buy than rent in the vast majority of the major markets. Both investors and traditional buyers are seeing this and are buying homes.
It's a great idea. I'm a real estate broker and did the same thing myself when I was starting out. Because you are going to occupy one of the units, you can take advantage of the low down payment loans to finance almost the entire purchase price. The obvious key is to make sure that the property will provide enough positive cash flow after you move on to make it worth your while. Another thought is student housing, which is a popular place to invest around San Diego State, where I do business. The rent per room is fantastic if you don't mind dealing with high turnover and the college crowd.
You can access the chain of title through a title company. This will give all the history on the home since it was first purchased. I can help you with that if you would like.
The best way to find the current value of your home (other than paying for an appraisal) is to contact a good realtor. A realtor will provide you with a comparitive market analysis (CMA) that is very similar to an appraisal and should include adjustments from homes that have sold recently that are the most similar to your home. This is one of the services that I provide my clients in San Diego. Anyone who is looking for a comprehensive valuation on their home can reach me [phone number deleted by Zillow moderator. Please refer to our Good Neighbor Policy for posting guidelines]