Dealing with agents is a two-way street: don't accept too little, but don't expect too much. If you just want to see what's out there rather trawl the Internet or pop in to local show houses. Don't abuse an agent by expecting a free ride to every property on their books, including the most expensive one to satiate your curiosity.
Believe it or not, during holiday season coastal agents are inundated with 'potential buyers' on rainy days when the beach is off limits. While it could be argued that some of these individuals are genuinely looking for a second home, the majority are bored and are simply looking for something to do.
Even legitimate buyers will sometimes inadvertently cost an agent money for nothing by setting their buying goals either too high or by understating their financial abilities. In other words they will go from property to property endlessly looking for something that isn't obtainable due to their financial restraints.
On the other side of the coin, everyone loves a bargain, but you are unlikely to find one by understating what you can afford. Agents are desperate to sell property and will inform buyers when they have a well-priced listing on their books that meets their criteria. Remember that all bargains are relative and occur across all price bands.
Buyers who have a clear understanding as to what they can realistically afford and who know exactly what they are looking for make everyone's (including their own) lives easier.
That said, it's very difficult to find the 'perfect' home and more often than not, buyers will have to compromise, for example by accepting a lesser feature like an outdated kitchen that they can renovate at a later stage.
Before running up the mileage on an estate agent's vehicle, by treating them like a form of tour bus operator in a strange city, why not use the internet to narrow down the property search. The internet may not have been invented as a tool for property seekers, but it is absolutely perfect for this purpose. Although many properties were bought sight unseen during the boom, very few people will buy a home online without physically viewing the property. However, the medium allows agents to showcase the home by photographing every room and providing the potential buyer with a lucid description. It doesn't end there. Google maps gives you a bird's eye view of any suburb and it's usually also possible to find out more about a particular area online. These days you can get a perfectly clear picture of the home and the area without leaving the comfort of your armchair.
Popping in to an agency with a clear mind as to what you want and having a list of potential properties on hand is going to go a long way in finding you the perfect home. You could, of course, argue that it's an estate agent's job to do the running around, however, committing your desires clearly will give the agent a firm base from which to work.