Make certain 'right' choice is based on reason


October 04, 1992|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

They're called "buying signals."

When homebuyers so warm to a property that they're ready to commit, an experienced agent will quickly spot the signs. The buyers will start to mentally place their green sofa, divvy up bedrooms and gaze out the picture window as if they already live there.

"There's really an 'ah-hah' feeling for most people when they find the right house," says Mike Brodie, president of the Residential Sales Council, a Chicago-based educational organization linked to the National Association of Realtors.

The problem is that unless that "right house" emotion is grounded in reason, it could be the wrong choice. Just as passion can cause you to pick the wrong marital partner, so can it can prompt you to pick the wrong house.

"You've got to have a child-like excitement about the house, yet have a logical, almost computer-like, support for those emotions," Mr. Brodie says.

Failing to inform yourself on all major aspects of the property can lead to some disappointing conclusions, says Keith Bisogno, marketing manager for PHH Homequity, a subsidiary of the Hunt Valley-based PHH Corp., which helps relocate 39,000 households each year.

"Often families make impulsive decisions. They'll be sold on the back sun porch -- not realizing that behind those trees a superhighway is coming through," he cautions.

To be sure your instincts lead you to the right home, realty specialists make these suggestions:

* List your "hot buttons" before you go house hunting.

Carrying a paper reminder of your main criteria for the home you desire should help you stay on the right path during your search.

Anne Welch, an agent with ERA-Gallagher in Bethesda, had such a list in hand as she searched for the a renovated town house for herself and her husband.

"I wanted an old house with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and a fireplace -- all in the right neighborhood. When I saw it, it took five minutes to decide. It was like a bomb had been dropped," she says.

* See at least five homes before you allow yourself to decide which one is right.

"I consider purchasing a home a guaranteed weight loss program. It's a very tense time and one of very high anxiety. You have to remember that a lot of money is involved and be very careful," Ms. Welch says.

How many houses you'll need to see before you're comfortable that you have a context for your purchase depends, in part, on your decision-making style. Most people look at five to 20 properties. If you're what the real estate industry knows as a "looker," you'll undoubtedly find yourself more comfortable at the upper end of the spectrum. But if you're comfortable making decisions with relative haste, you'll undoubtedly come in at the low end.

* Be sure your homework includes research on the neighborhood and not just the house.

"You've got to think long range," Ms. Welch says.

You need to keep your eye on two balls, not just one. Ball one is the house itself -- including the home's features, condition and price. Ball two, just as important, is the context of the house -- the culture and amenities of the neighborhood -- including its schools, roadways and recreational facilities.

"If you don't focus on the specific properties of the neighborhood, you could be very disappointed. ," Ms. Welch says.

* Get a second opinion from someone you trust, but be sure your adviser is local.

Bring along a college friend from a distant city at your own risk. Regional real estate markets vary widely and what you could accurately perceive to be a bargain here might seem overpriced -- or under-priced -- to your outside confidant.

On the other hand, a good friend who lives near the community where you plan to buy could give you welcome perspective on your purchase.

* Be cautious in taking the advice of close relatives who visit your "right property."

When you bring along your mother, father or other close relative, you risk getting an opinion based on the relative's vested interests.

Does your mother think the contemporary house in the distant suburb is "all wrong" because your moving there would mean her baby grandson would leave the old neighborhood where she lives? Then maybe Mom is not your best counselor on home selection.

* Be aware of the voices of relatives -- even those absent or dead.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that parental values can influence their children's behavior -- even when those children are in their 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s.

Was your father a tightwad who thought it unconscionable to spend more than the bare minimum on housing? Did your mother hold firmly to the belief that an old, brick home represented a better purchase than a new one surfaced with aluminum siding? Then -- unless you're aware of what's holding you back -- a psychological barrier could keep you from buying the right house.

Stresses Mr. Bisogno: "You've got to balance the opinions of your parents with what's right for you."

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