Agents offer tips to


buyers looking for a new home.

January 09, 1994|By Maryalice Yakutchik | Maryalice Yakutchik,Contributing Writer

Max and Anne Hernandez of Towson had been looking for their first home for more than six months -- that makes them experts on taking the all-important tour.

For Max, it's like test-driving a car: regardless of how it looks on paper, there's no way to know if it feels right until you get behind the wheel -- or into the closets.

The couple recently visited a four-bedroom brick colonial in Cockeysville. But on this tour, their first of this house, there is no checking under the sink, no turning on of the faucets or flushing of the toilets. That can come later.

Most real estate agents agree that it's probably best not to think of the house tour as once-and-done experience, but rather as a series of at least two visits and possibly even three; time is one of the real luxuries of today's buyers' market.

"When the market was hot, you looked at a house and went back and wrote a contract if you liked it [so you wouldn't lose it]," said George Turner, a real estate agent of 17 years with O'Conner, Piper and Flynn in Annapolis. "But now you can take more time ruling down the number of properties you like."

He advises limiting home tours to no more than five or six a day to avoid confusion and exhaustion. Being alert and aware during a tour is important, he adds, because although most home sales are contingent on a home inspection by a professional, that doesn't usually happen until after a buyer already has invested a good deal of time, money and emotional energy on a property.

Initially, the potential home buyer should allow himself a purely emotional response, unfettered by details and minutiae, said W.E. "Willie" Bickford, an agent for four years, now with Coldwell Banker/Grempler in Phoenix. Then, once the house has become an emotional part of a customer, a room-by-room list of necessities and questions -- including pros and cons -- might come in handy.

For that all-important first visit, it's probably best to leave the mother-in-law, kids and dog at home, said Theresa Haynes, a Long and Foster agent in Parkville. Although the parents who are paying closing costs and the brother who is a contractor may be important in the ultimate decision, they are probably distractions on an initial tour, as are children.

"It's very difficult for children to tour houses," said Ms. Haynes, "and an especially long, boring process for toddlers." Another common distraction that trips up even savvy buyers, warned Ms. Haynes, is the current owners' furniture and decor.

She's seen far too many clients mistakenly judge a house by a living room set that's too big, making the room appear small, or a dining room set that's ill placed, disrupting the flow of traffic into the kitchen.

"The majority of people reject houses based on cosmetics and housekeeping," Ms. Haynes said. "And I don't think most people really realize that beautiful wallhangings and charming furnishings leave when the seller leaves."

Granted, it may be difficult to ignore the metallic blue butterfly wallpaper in the foyer and the messy teen-ager's bedroom, just as it is tempting to fantasize that one's former dorm-room decor will look as attractive in the study as the teak desk and leather couch now in place.

Regardless, potential home buyers would be wise not to sweat clutter or cosmetics. Rather, they should judge a home in terms of the lifestyle they lead (or plan to lead) and the furniture they have (or plan to have): Will the waterbed fit in the master suite? Can the library double as a playroom?

Once buyers locate that elusive, affordable place that appeals to their innate sense of "home," then it's time to consider the practical day-to-day needs, mundane though they may be. As a part of a tour, try driving once from work to the prospective home during a rush hour, Mr. Turner suggested. During a tour, be aware of sounds of traffic from the road; listen especially in the bedrooms, Mr. Bickford said. And pay attention to your other senses: It's usually easy to tell if the current residents are into smoking, pets or ethnic cooking; many people simply won't buy from smokers, Mr. Bickford said. And although distinctive odors often leave with the sellers' furniture and clothes, sometimes they linger in carpets and paint.

Most of all, said Ms. Haynes, use the tour as an opportunity to pay careful attention to floorplans, systems and structure. Unglamorous though it may be, that usually means spending more time in the home's dank, dark and tight spaces than originally planned. Get down on your hands and knees and peer up into the chimney; open and close the flue; ask when it was last cleaned. Rather than just assessing the storage capacity of an attic, which is what most do on a home tour, Ms. Haynes said, take a flashlight along to poke in rafters and corners; check the perimeters for telltale signs of moisture: cracks, blistering paint, discoloration.

"Moisture is probably the biggest problem in a house," Mr. Turner said. "A lot of problems can be found in basements."

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