Have an agent do a Comparative market analysis to give you a good feeling of your homes market value. Also an appraisal will be done during the refinance.
You can always interview several agents and see which one you mesh with best. The internet is also always a great resource.
To me it sounds like your attempting to get in a little over your head. If you are sure that you want a house, I would recommend saving and purchasing a home when you are ready. To jump into buying a town home that you don't necessarily want to own would be a mistake. If you didn't have any plans of being a landlord it would be best to be patient. Being a landlord is a lot of responsibility and in this case two mortgages is not better than one.
I may be mistaken but I believe only agents have that option.
The best idea is to interview several agents and see if there is one you click with. Making sure that your agent has you in mind is a trust issue that is felt and not really designated through the title of REALTOR.
I agree a CMA from a local Realtor or an appraisal can be done but the latter has a hefty fee.
Curb appeal or Landscaping. This is usually a facet of Real Estate that goes overlooked. Great curb appeal can make you the envy of the neighborhood.
Thanks for the info would love to hear more about the concept so maybe we could do something similar in NC.
Most people tend to go with someone they trust or heard about from a friend, coworker, or family member. If you don't know anyone then it is a good idea to shop around. But seller beware of agents that promise you everything you want to hear.
I usually refer my clients to people whom I have worked with in the past for certain needs, such as homeowners insurance. These services should be included in you due diligence as an agent so that they will not be taken advantage of. I do know of some realtors that try and stack these services on their clients for a profit but it is extremely time consuming in a job that has enough stress.