Tenacity required in quest for the 'nontraditional'



The homebuyer was a traveling salesman with a passion for classic cars. He cared not about how many bedrooms a house had, whether it was served by good schools, or where in the Baltimore-area it was located. But it had to have a large garage with ample space for tinkering.

"When he found the right house -- a tiny bungalow with a four-car garage in Arbutus -- he was as happy as a grease monkey," recalls Gary Suggars, the Coldwell Banker agent who spent nearly six months tracking down the right property for the salesman.

If you're like the salesman and have unusual home-buying requirements, your best bet is to stay with the chase until you've hunted down exactly the species you want, real estate specialists advise. Don't allow yourself to be talked out of your legitimate needs or desires.

"So many agents are lock-stepped into a traditional selling pattern. But you may not be a traditional buyer," points out Mr. Suggars, who sells homes through Coldwell Banker's Charles Street office in Towson.

In your home-buying quest, are you focused exclusively on a particular community? Must you be located close to the entrance ramp of a major highway so that you and your wife can make long commutes in opposite directions? Do you need a first-floor master bedroom because of a physical handicap that makes it hard to climb stairs?

If you have one of these or any other special requirements, you could be classified as a "nontraditional buyer." Most buyers fall into the "traditional" category. Within their price range, they could buy a wide array of houses in several different communities. They're concerned about such basics as yard size, bedrooms and the quality of local schools. But their needs aren't exotic.

Contrast that with the case of another client of Mr. Suggars, a Johns Hopkins University professor of English literature whose priority was shelter for a library of more than 6,000 volumes. His search was for a house with many built-in bookshelves on the main floor.

Fully 30 percent of homebuyers are like the professor in that they have special real estate requirements, estimates Du Psaric, an agent with RE/MAX Advantage in Columbia. While the average buyer can usually select a home after three weeks of searching, the special-needs buyer may need months, she says.

For the atypical buyer, "the most important thing is to find an agent with whom you are comfortable -- someone who will listen to your needs," Ms. Psaric says.


Realty specialists offer these pointers for homebuyers with unusual requirements:

* Select a patient realty agent who enjoys the challenge of a hard-to-find property.

Good agents are oriented to satisfying people's legitimate needs. "They sell lifestyles, not just houses," says Mr. Suggars, the Coldwell Banker agent from Towson.

Some inexperienced agents tend to tire easily when working with a nontraditional buyer who doesn't yield a commission in the short run, according to Mr. Suggars.

"They don't think about how -- six months from now -- they'll need a paycheck just as they do now. They just live from closing to closing," he says.

It takes a patient and resourceful agent to assist a special-needs buyer.

An agent can't always rely on the Multiple Listing Service for a house with unusual features, because they're often not mentioned. To track down a house with lots of built-in bookshelves, for instance, may require the agent to repeatedly scan advertisements and call other agents.

As it turned out, Mr. Suggars located the unusual four-car-garage property for the traveling salesman by monitoring for-sale ads for businesses. The homebuyer wound up purchasing the property from the owner of a towing business.

* Be honest with your agent about your needs from the outset.

Are you a collector of fine wines who must have the ideal conditions to house your valuable bottles? Then why de-emphasize the importance of your very precise requirements? To spare time and energy for everyone involved, it's better to inform the agent at the very outset that you're casting a small net.

"It's better to have everything out in the open from the beginning," says Ms. Psaric, the RE/MAX agent from Columbia.

* Change agents if the one you're working with fails to appreciate your needs or loses interest in the hunt.

There are several telltale signs when an agent lacks devotion to the buyer's quest or loses interest for any reason.

The agent may betray that he hasn't been listening to the buyer's appeals by continually showing the buyer off-target properties. He may stop calling the client with ideas. Or he may even fail to return the buyer's calls.

Ms. Psaric suggests you drop an agent who has failed to contact you in two weeks or longer. And Mr. Suggars thinks you should sever ties to one who fails to grasp your legitimate housing requirements.

"If you have an agent who persists in showing you what he wants to sell -- not what you want to buy -- then go with another agent," he says.

* Stick to your guns.

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