Dear Ray,

I follow your column, and I trust your advice. Can you recommend a lender for a first-time buyer? The volume of information about mortgages is overwhelming, and I need a patient mortgage person.

— J.C.

My first recommendation is that you should begin interviewing agents. Buying a home can be a daunting process. You can make the experience of buying a home less difficult and more enjoyable if you have an experienced professional guiding you. Plus, any experienced Realtor will know several lenders to whom they can refer you.

Even if you’re not ready to buy a home today, you still need a Realtor. Your Realtor can help you formulate a plan and timeline for your future home purchase. Along the way, your Realtor can guide you to the right lender and be a resource for all the other issues that arise in a typical sale.

The data shows that buyers are waiting longer and longer to engage with a Realtor. That’s because the Internet now provides access to information that agents have always provided.

The problem with the Internet is twofold: The volume of information is overwhelming, and the quality of the information is questionable. To be perfectly honest, I find the volume of real estate information intimidating and not always accurate.

In fact, as Internet use in the homebuying process continues to increase, the data shows that those buyers are more — not less — likely to use a real estate agent, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). NAR’s “2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers” shows that, for those who purchased a home during the study period, 92 percent used the Internet and 42 percent started the homebuying process by looking at properties online, while just 17 percent took the first step by contacting an agent.

Interestingly, 43 percent of buyers found their ideal home through the Internet, while 33 percent of buyers found their home through an agent. Overall, 88 percent of homebuyers utilized the services of an agent in the homebuying process. That demonstrates that buyers are more engaged in finding the right home but then seek out an agent to negotiate and manage the sale for them.

Take it from me: Seek expert advice whenever possible, rather than trying to become the expert yourself.

‘Free’ money

Here’s some welcome news for all first-time homebuyers (or any buyer who has not owned a home for three years): There is grant money available for your down payment. It’s a grant; it’s free money. You don’t need to repay it.

Washington state has approved the 5-percent down-payment-assistance grant program through the National Homebuyers Fund. Qualified buyers (with credit scores as low as 640) may receive a down-payment grant to purchase a home, and they are not required to pay back the money.

The grant is for up to 5 percent of the loan amount, and it can be used toward your down payment and/or closing costs. The grant is available for Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Administration and conventional mortgages.

Those living in King County can have incomes as high as $101,000 and still qualify for the grant.

This is an amazing opportunity for homebuyers, but it won’t last forever. The grant program is available through approved Washington lenders.

RAY AKERS is a licensed Realtor for Lake & Co. Real Estate in Seattle. Send your questions to ray@akerscargill.com or call (206) 722-4444.