Don't be swept away shopping for a home for very first time


April 21, 1991|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

Realty people have seen the phenomenon time and again:

The first-time buyer opens the door of the first house he's shown, takes a whirl through the place and then, beaming broadly, announces he's ready to buy.

A decisive, hardheaded buyer? No, more likely a foolhardy individual who lacks the experience to know what he's looking for in a property.

"Don't be swept off your feet the first time you go visit a home," cautions Karl Breckenridge, author of several books on real estate. "What looks good at first sight tonight may not look so good tomorrow morning."

Too often, first-timers are so relieved at the notion of getting away from an apartment to a home of their own that they fail to be discriminating in what they purchase, Mr. Breckenridge says. That, plus a lack of perspective on alternatives could cause them to act impulsively.

"Any place looks good after you've been walking up two flights of stairs with your groceries," he says.

There are good reasons not to buy too quickly. A hasty buyer, especially a novice, can overlook factors that should well influence his decision. What's the neighborhood like? What's planned for the beautiful open space bordering the property? How close is the home to the noise and fumes of a busy highway? What would the commute be like? How good are the neighborhood schools?

"There are many perfectly beautiful homes in bad locations," Mr.Breckenridge says.

"It's OK to like the first house you see but come back later to buy it," says Paul Duncan, president of Columbia-based American Properties.

Just as some inexperienced buyers rush to buy, others go to the opposite extreme -- worrying, wondering and obsessing about the purchase -- caught in a quagmire of details. Given their

anxiety about making a mistake, they often string out the buying process.

To strike a happy medium between buying too slow and too fast, realty specialists offer these pointers:

* Make a checklist of the 10 most important things you want in a house before you go shopping and then rank them. This way, you won't be so swayed by subjective factors that you might make the wrong decision, says Sue Zitzer, sales manager at Century 21-C.C. Rittenhouse Inc. in Catonsville.

For married couples (or other joint buyers) the exercise also helps them reach agreement. In this case, each co-buyer should come up with his or her top criteria and then the two lists should be combined.

In assembling your list, include both neighborhood features (such as commuting time, school system, neighborhood standards) and features of the property itself (such as number of bedrooms and yard size).

Be sure there's enough space to accommodate your lifestyle. Many a young buyer fails to think about where he'll place large furnishings (such as a big brass bed or Persian carpet) or forgets that he'll need den space to pursue a hobby, Mr. Breckenridge says.

* Don't make the mistake of being too short-term in your thinking.

Many first-time buyers picture their needs in terms only of their current manner of living.

Yet many who imagine themselves living in a home for just a couple of years wind up staying much longer.

* Work with an agent you like -- but don't give the agent blind trust.

A smart buyer will garner information from sources beyond the agent. He'll look to books, articles, seminars, government offices and informal sources to decide where and what he wants to buy.

Often it's the government, and not the agent, who can tell the buyer about plans for road construction in a community under consideration. By the same token, neighbors in the community can offer a storehouse of information.

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