After watching the housing market nearly collapse, federal regulations have tightened the lending market and forever changed the process of buying a home.

What hasn't changed, local real estate agents argue, is the importance of working with a realtor who can best represent your wants and needs as you look for your next home.

"A buyer's agent is something that every buyer should consider," said Gail Christman, the owner of Gene Durigan Real Estate in Lehighton. "A realtor is aware of market trends in the area, the buyers' options when entering into a sales contract, the latest regulations regarding the real estate transaction. We use these tools to help our clients find a home that suits their needs."

A buyer's agent will work with a selling agent on your behalf to negotiate price and conditions of sale, and walk buyers through the steps of making an offer.

"We represent the buyer during the negotiation and purchase process," she added.

Look for a licensed realtor who is familiar with the region in which you wish to purchase a home. Speak with friends or family who have purchased a home to get recommendations, and ask if they were comfortable with the way they were treated by local real estate agents. Don't be afraid to meet with several realtors to see if their personality is a good "fit."

"It's not always the agent who sells the most property who can best represent you," said Christman. "You need to have confidence in your agent's morals and the way they conduct their business in general."

To protect your needs and finances, all offers and agreements must be in writing.

"All contracts, including addendums to terms, contingencies and inspections must be in writing. A buyer should never agree to any verbal terms," she said. "Even when (terms) are in writing, there are occasions when disagreements arise that require remediation."

People who are considering a new home purchase should begin shopping soon. The "first-time homebuyer's credit," officially part of the Worker, Homeowner and Business Assistance Act of 2009, has now been extended to include current homeowners. First-time buyers are eligible for up to an $8,000 tax credit; current homeowners may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $6,500. Buyers must enter a binding contract to purchase a home by April 30, 2010 and close by June 30 to be eligible.

"First-time home buyers and current home buyers who plan to buy should prepare themselves to take advantage of the tax credit money that is being offered," said Christman. "From all indications, these offers will not be modified or extended again."

Now is also the time to resolve credit issues and improve your credit score, before beginning the home buying process. If you know of any existing credit issues or find a problem with your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, take the time to make repairs before applying for a mortgage.

"There is time to get them resolved," said Christman. "It does appear that interest rates will remain low, at least until next spring."