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Tales From the Trenches: Second of Two Parts

May 11, 1997

'I Felt at Home From the Moment I Stepped In'

When I decided to purchase a house, I asked around and found a great agent who specializes in first-time buyers, and I asked a lot of questions, including the silly ones.

I didn't have a large down payment, but my agent presented several first-time buyer financing options. I took a 30-year mortgage offered by the California Housing Finance Agency that allowed for the first-year interest of 5%, the second year 6% and the remaining term would be 7%.

I wanted to live in Pasadena, since I work, go to church, teach and mentor kids there, and on my second house-hunting trip, I found a 1924 Spanish-style house on a corner lot. I felt "at home" from the moment I stepped in. I made an offer, the seller countered and we made a deal.

The following are recommendations I would give to others based on my experience:

* Find an agent you trust. Remember, he or she must fight and negotiate for you.

* Get pre-qualified for a loan. This will allow you to look at houses you could reasonably afford.

* Be there during the house inspection. A lot of great information was passed on to me from the inspector. By following him around I got to see everything firsthand, from the crawl space in the attic to the crawl space underneath the house. I found out what needed immediate attention and what would probably need replacing several years down the line.

* Talk to the sellers to get a feel for the history of the house. If anything, this will help you appreciate the house a little more. I also found out where certain pieces of furniture and appliances worked best in the house.

* Sellers should purchase a home warranty policy. This covers repair/replacement of all built-ins and other items. When something goes kaput, I immediately check my policy to see if it's covered.

* Walk the neighborhood and talk to all willing neighbors. Ask neighbors how long they have lived in the neighborhood; the longer, the better.

* Check on crime. Call the police department and ask them about crime in the neighborhood.



'Size Up the Market and Look and Look'

Location, location, location is the advice you always hear when buying a house. To that my wife and I would like to add: Realtor, Realtor, Realtor and time, time, time.

About 15 months ago, my wife was offered a transfer from Bellflower to her corporate offices in Santa Barbara. I retired and we moved into a rented condo in Carpinteria with a one- year lease. That was the best thing we could have done because it gave us one year to size up the market and look and look and look. The more you look, the more knowledgeable you get.

Our second smart, or lucky, move was to select a Realtor referred to us by a couple we met and whose community values we shared. The Realtor turned out to be a gem, an unassuming woman who has become a friend for life.

She knew her market well and quickly identified "the area for you." It had next to no listings but finally, after months of looking, she called to say she had "our house."

She was right. The location is great, the house was in move-in condition with none of the usual "Well, we can remodel that" features, and we bought it. After nine months of house hunting, with the right Realtor, we knew this was the house for us.



'It's OK to Be Scared, Terrified, Petrified'

Some suggestions from things I did and didn't do when I bought my first home last year:

* Get early approval for your loan, then look. You'll know what you can afford and you'll be ready for it.

* The right agent is crucial. Get a real estate agent who is knowledgeable, whom you can trust, and who will listen to what you say. Don't be talked into anything.

* Read the fine print. Make sure you understand all the terms of your loan(s) or you may be in for some big, unexpected, unwelcome surprises. A really good loan officer is essential for this.

* Fix up first. If your new house needs painting, carpet, etc., have it done before you move in.

* Don't "settle" for something. Get a place you like, that's within your means, and that you'll be glad to come home to.

* Talk to people. Ask questions. Listen. Share your feelings.

* It's OK to be scared, terrified, petrified. This is a big step, especially if you're alone.



'Want a Home? Then Do Your Homework'

Want a home? Then do your homework!

Every Sunday for a year, I read the Real Estate section of the newspaper, as well as brochures from real estate companies listing available houses. On weekends, I visited open houses in my price range. This showed me what I could expect for the money. It also fine-tuned my needs and wants.

I also lived in the community where I decided to buy. This gave me assurance that the city was moving in a positive direction. It also allowed me to focus on, and eliminate, neighborhoods.

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