I view my relationship with my clients as primarily consultative. I provide information about neighborhoods, commuting considerations, schools, potential property-related issues before and after inspections, etc. Good third-party advice is always valuable, though, and these articles from US News and World Report are good:
The second piece includes an article describing what sounds like truly horrible service from a real estate agent, and this is an important decision that all first-time buyers need to make. Personal recommendations from friends and family are usually the best way to narrow the list. Beyond that, experience, education, advanced certifications, and intangibles like “like and trust” are vital. Almost all of my business is with repeat clients and their referred friends and family, and I know from experience that it works for all concerned.