Know your wants before you hunt for a new house

SMART MOVES

July 26, 1992|By ELLEN L. JAMES

The 150-year-old house in Ridgely's Delight with the highly polished honey floors and view of the new baseball stadium saw three prospects on one recent week. All were interested but wanted to look on. After all, they thought to themselves, "It's a buyer's market. We'll take our time."

Then one Saturday a decisive attorney from Washington drove north on Interstate 95 and looked at the lovely rehabilitated house with the honey floors and snapped it up. "Boo-hoo," wailed the three prospects, who all still thought fondly of the property. "We wanted it ourselves."

The moral of this true story? "Even in a tepid market, you can still lose a house. That's because a house perfect for you could also be perfect for someone else," cautions Gary Suggars, the Coldwell Banker agent who listed the Baltimore property.

Buyers these days are very picky. They look at 20 or 30 houses before they buy, rather than the five or six homes that most prospects used to see on a home tour in the 1980s, realty experts note. Buyers' market conditions that prevail in many neighborhoods allow you to be more pokey. But remember that, even now, indecision can extract its penalty.

"Many buyers are under the sleepy myth that the market will just wait for them until they wake up and buy," Mr. Suggars says.

If the home is a prime property in immaculate condition with lots of upgrades -- what's known as a "cream puff" -- you could be especially vulnerable to disappointment. You could also be sorry if the house you've seen closely fits your description of the ideal.

" 'Let's just think about it over the weekend' could be the phrase that leads to your loss," says Mike Brodie, president of the Residential Sales Council, a real estate education group tied to the National Association of Realtors.

"Buyers have to be very careful not to be overconfident a house is going to remain on the market until they get back to it," agrees Dan Freedman, broker-owner of ERA-Imperial Real Estate Inc. of Cross Keys.

What you want to do is avoid impulsive buying and yet still snare the right house. To accomplish both objectives, real estate professionals offer these suggestions:

L * Know what you want before you head out to shop for a home.

"Spend a lot of time figuring out what would make a house special for you," recommends Mr. Suggars, who sells real estate from Coldwell Banker's Charles Street office.

Is a gourmet kitchen a prime concern? Do you want the kind of garage that would let you pursue your passion for woodwork? Do you want plenty of yard space for an English garden? Or is proximity to work your No. 1 requirement?

All too often, buyers believe that the only vehicle for making headway toward a home purchase is to actively pick through a number of properties. But "quiet time" spent before your search is even started can also provide real momentum. Organizing your own thoughts in a quiet place can help you focus your search so that it's more effective.

Your quiet time should be spent creating a list of the "must have" and "like to have" qualities you're seeking in a home. Give a copy of this list to the agent showing you property and refer to it during your search when you sense yourself veering off course and wasting time.

* Step up your home search if you think you may have found the "right house" at the beginning.

"We've had occasions when people really fall in love with a home but then say, 'This is only the fifth house we've seen. We want to see many more before we decide,' " recalls Mr. Freedman, the Cross Keys broker.

To be sure, it's wise to check out several choices. A good realty agent will almost always caution you against buying the very first home you see -- until you've surveyed at least a few others. This advice is especially important for inexperienced buyers.

Still, there's no logical reason why the first, third or fifth home you see couldn't prove to be the perfect home. Rather than bTC risking the chance of losing the right place while you meander through the market, why not speed your search, allowing yourself to quickly see other options. "If you really fall in love with that one particular house, I would accelerate the looking process. That way you'll still have a chance before someone else buys the home out from under you," Mr. Freedman advises.

* Don't wrangle over small numbers once you've made up your mind.

With home prices fluctuating, this is hardly the time to be cavalier about housing values. With the help of your agent, you need to study comparable homes that have sold in your area to be certain that you bid no more than the place is reasonably worth.

Even so, once you're focused on the right property and know neighborhood values cold, it can be a mistake to squabble with the seller over small change. If the seller becomes annoyed and happens to have another viable buyer in the wings, you could lose out -- even in a bona fide "buyers' market."

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