Working 'smart' can save time in search for home


November 15, 1992|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

Does your patience for a home search run about 20 minutes? Are you one who relishes home buying about as much as looking for a used car or cemetery plot?

Then you're not alone.

"A lot of people -- if they can humanly avoid it -- would rather not go into the housing marketplace," says Peter G. Miller of Silver Spring, an author of several books on real estate.

Go to buy a house and lots of unpleasant things happen. Realtors and mortgage lenders alike will pepper you with questions about your assets, income and debt. You'll face the fatigue of visiting the properties. And, once you narrow your choices, you'll face the mental turmoil of making a decision.

"Buying real estate is an arduous process. And, given the choice, most people would rather not have to go through an arduous process," Mr. Miller reflects.

Some feel the excitement of a home purchase is more than a fair reward for the drudgery, but others are acutely impatient with the process. Busy career people -- especially hard-driving "Type A" personalities, would like to expedite the process, says Gene Gallagher, principal broker at ERA-Gallagher & Co. in Bethesda.

To be sure, real estate experts caution against rushing the purchase of a home or buying under pressure. Choosing a

property under pressure is as silly as buying a formal on the night of the prom -- only the consequences are more serious.

"Don't put yourself in a position where you have to buy a house quickly. It's an absolute disaster," Mr. Miller comments.

The idea of an expedited home search is not to push matters -- to take out the cake before it's baked. Instead, it's to "work smart" in the home-buying process, concentrating your energies areas that should yield results.

Real estate specialists offer these pointers:

* Line up your mortgage financing before you zero in on particular properties.

One common time-waster involves expeditions to look at property outside your price range, remarks Mr. Miller, the Silver Spring author.

"Why go out and look at a house you can't afford? The only thing it leads to is disappointment," he says.

With just a phone call to a mortgage lender, you can usually get enough information about your buying limits simply by providing basic data on your income and monthly debt load.

Take the process a step further by going into the lender's office to obtain a "pre-qualification letter" certifying your buying limits and the document could save you both time and money in dealing with the seller of the property you ultimately chose.

* Narrow your search based on commuting distance, school district and housing type.

Why not look at six houses in one neighborhood rather than looking at six houses in each of six neighborhoods?

"The more you narrow your search, the faster it happens," says Mr. Gallagher, the Bethesda broker.

Of course, you don't want to narrow your search arbitrarily. But there are rational ways to select one right neighborhood before you look at individual houses. Your desired mode and distance of commute will be one limit. Another will be the type of house you want -- a one-story vs. a two-story house, for example.

In addition, the school district is an important factor, even for people without children. Your home will have a higher resale potential if it's in the immediate vicinity of schools with a good reputation.

* Define the boundaries of the community of your choice on your agent's map before you look at homes.

You can make better time buying groceries if you head for the supermarket armed with a list. By the same token, you'll %J expedite your search for a home if you have established objective goals and limits before you begin trooping through properties, real estate agents know from experience.

"Stay in the conference room at your agent's office until you have found your neighborhood," Mr. Gallagher says.

* Avoid cutting important corners just to save time.

It's wise to discipline yourself and focus your housing search, but it's unwise to hasten the process and examine too superficially the homes you consider, Mr. Miller counsels.

"To rush and miss an opportunity, miss a connection, or not speak to enough people to get a bargain is a mistake," he says.

Once the right home comes on the market at the right price, the savvy buyer makes sure he makes his contract offer contingent on a professional home inspection, Mr. Miller says. Yes, problems found in the course of an inspection can delay a deal and cost the buyer time. But the delay could spare you a major error, Mr. Miller says.

"Some deals deserve to be delayed to protect the buyer," he says.

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