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More Tales From the Home-Buying Trenches

May 04, 1997

Editor's note: A few weeks ago we asked first-time home buyers to share their successes and their stumbles along the path to homeownership. The advice was excellent-- educational and inspirational. With thanks to all who wrote, here's our annual "Tales From the Home-Buying Trenches."

'I Actually Belong Somewhere'

The financial aspects of homeownership are well-known, but it's rare to find much written about the emotional side of it. I've found it's had a profound impact on my life.

In 1994, after years of renting, I bought a one-bedroom condo and, for the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 1974, I felt I actually belong somewhere.

My father's career took us from California to Texas, from Texas to Utah, then to Pennsylvania and Iowa. Perhaps this is the first time ever I feel truly at home.

I still get a rush coming home at the end of a long day knowing the place is mine. I know my neighbors for the first time ever, and I actually want to. And I still have the option of coming and going whenever I please and never running into anyone for two weeks.

Deep down, there's a sense of peace and security as well as pride. It's a very modest place, which suits me fine. I get a great amount of pleasure from the quiet and the scent of orange blossoms. Sometimes at night, it smells like the woods.

I'm calmer at work. My decisions both in business and in private are made with a little more confidence. It seems odd that a real estate transaction could have such incredible consequences in so many ways.

My advice: Do it. Read everything put in front of you, do research, understand the power of the word "no." Ask questions, hire a lawyer if you need to. The reward is far greater than the risk.



'There Was Nothing We Could Do'

It hurts to be taken in a real estate deal. It is especially painful if it is your first home and you are newlyweds. My husband and I were sold a house with $5,000 worth of termite damage. There was nothing we could do legally because the house was a probate and therefore sold "as is."

Our advice:

* Be suspicious of everything. We wanted a home so badly that we believed the seller had nothing to hide. We believed the sweet talk of our Realtor.

* Get an independent inspector. In a probate, the inspector should look at the house before an offer is made. If the estate will not let it be examined, run.


Los Angeles

'The Best Loan Won, and So Did We'

Don't let the lenders have the upper hand unless you want a spanking.

When we bought our home, we started the mortgage shopping with four lenders; the best loan won, and so did we. We paid one-eighth of a point, paid no fees (that $2,000 was paid by the seller) and got an 8.1% interest rate. Bottom line: It pays to have lenders compete.



We Bought With 'Both Eyes Closed'

My husband and I bought our first home in 1991. It was a new condo complex, so charming and peaceful. We had planned to sell it in a couple years and walk away with at least $20,000 in profit. Wrong! We didn't anticipate the real estate market talking a nose dive. Our home is now worth half of what we paid for it.

We went into the deal with both eyes closed. Since then our eyes have become wide open. We should have rented a few more years to save more money so we would now be buying the house of our dreams.

Here are some do's and don'ts that we will never forget:

* Do learn as much as you can about buying a home. Talk to people in the real estate business. Take a real estate class at an adult school. Read as many articles and books as you can.

* Don't be pressured into buying a home by the real estate agent. The agent we dealt with led us to believe that there were only a few units left of the 60 that had been built and that we had better snatch ours up. The reality was that we were only the second people to buy in the complex.

* Do plan to stay. Be prepared to live in your home several years or you may possibly be faced with losing a lot of money. Never think that you can buy a small place now and sell it for a profit later.

* Don't think your mortgage is your only payment. There is always the property tax. You may also have to pay an association fee if you purchase a condominium. And remember, if something needs to be fixed, whether it be the plumbing or the walls, you are the one paying for it.


San Pedro

'We Found Exactly What We Wanted'

It is vital to do two things before starting the home-buying process:

* Establish your purpose or plans in buying a house. Is it going to be your primary residence for the next umpteen years? Will you raise your kids there? Will you remodel it to rent it or sell it?

My husband and I wanted a place we could remodel ourselves while we were living in it so that we could then rent it and move onto our next purchase to do the same thing.

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