If you are planning to buy a home, you should absolutely enlist the help of a Realtor! Your Realtor will be on your team throughout the entire process, and will give you a great deal of peace of mind. I'll go into more detail on the four main reasons why buyers should have a Realtor.
In California, the commission of the buyer's agent is usually paid by the seller. The listing agent charges a certain percentage of commission, say, 5%, to split between herself and the buyer's agent. This is one of the main costs of selling a home. Since the services of a Realtor come at no cost to you, the buyer, I highly recommend reaching out to a Realtor when you are getting ready to purchase a home. in California, more than 9 out of 10 homebuyers use a Realtor, so you are in good company!
Realtors have a Fiduciary Duty to their clients. This means that Realtors must always protect the best interests of the client. More specifically, it means the Realtor must provide full disclosure, proper accounting, confidentiality, obedience, loyalty, due diligence, and honesty to the principal (buyer or seller). It used to be that only the seller would use a Realtor in a real estate transaction. The buyer, then, would work with the Realtor of of the seller of the property they wanted, yet the Realtor would only have fiduciary duty to the seller. Imagine this for a second! You are making an extremely large and important purchase, and the person advising you has a duty only to protect the seller in the transaction! This was clearly a problem, and now in the vast majority of real estate transactions, both the buyer and the seller get represented by Realtors.
Realtors spend a great deal of time writing contracts and negotiating deals for their clients. They can explain every term on a contract in detail, and make sure the client understands what they are being asked to sign. Realtors also negotiate on behalf of buyers and sellers often. They understand how to write compelling offers, handle counter offers, draw up disclosures, and select which items to include on requests for repairs. A buyer should not be forced to do all of this without the help of someone who does it everyday. Realtors are well-versed in the arts of contract writing and negotiation, and utilize their expertise to protect the interests of their clients.
A Realtor can provide critical information about neighborhoods and the home buying process. Say, for example, you work in Carlsbad but your kids go to school in University City. You don't want a long commute to work OR to drop the kids off, and you want a detached house in an area where home values are showing solid appreciation. A great San Diego Realtor would be able to list off neighborhoods that would fit the bill, and describe each. By "insider knowledge," I don't mean information about the demographics or crime statistics of various areas. Based on Fair Housing Law, Realtors are not able to disclose this type of information. We can, however, direct you to online resources which enable you to do that kind of research yourself. Realtors can provide a depth of knowledge that will be extremely useful to you when you are buying a home.