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A First-Time Home Buyer Wants to Know Where to Start

July 29, 2001|BARRY STONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: As a first-time home buyer, I feel bewildered by the choices available to me. I'm interested in knowing the most important considerations in making a satisfactory selection.

Answer: Entire books have been written in answer to your question. There's no way to adequately address this topic in a short column, so let's just hit on three main issues:

* Location: The home-buying consideration most often stressed by investment professionals is the location of the property, which affects its use, desirability, value and future marketability. Therefore, much consideration should be given to the quality of the general and immediate neighborhood you choose.

Variables include the general reputation of the area, its aesthetic attractiveness, apparent upkeep and pride of ownership, population density and nearby properties, consistent age and style of homes in the neighborhood, relative occurrences of crime (check with local police for details), proximity to schools and parks, and possible nuisances such as nearby airports, freeways, factories, etc.

* Financing: Before commencing the home-hunting process, consult a few mortgage lenders to qualify for a purchase loan and to ensure you get the best terms available.

Many buyers wait until they are in escrow to discover that their chosen lender won't provide funding. The frustration and embarrassment of a canceled purchase can be avoided by allowing the lender to pre-qualify you for the loan.

This not only ensures your ability to complete the transaction, but also informs you of the amount you can afford to spend on a home, based upon your income and other assets.

* Physical condition: After you find your dream home and have opened escrow, there remains the critical issue of discerning its physical condition--overall construction quality, operability of functional components, maintenance status and compliance with safety standards.

The shortest and most reliable route to full disclosure is to engage the services of a reputable and experienced home inspector.

To ensure a quality inspection, call several real estate offices in your area and ask who is the most nitpicky inspector around. The point is not to kill the deal but to learn as much as possible about what you are buying. Be sure to attend your inspection and ask your inspector every question that comes to mind.

Concrete Cures Best When It Cures Slowly

Q: When my home was built, I wanted to make sure the slab hardened properly. I read that concrete hardens best if wetted for several hours after it becomes firm, so I asked the builder to keep the surface wet. He said this was not necessary because special retardants are added to the concrete mix.

The day he poured the concrete, the temperature was in the 90s, the surface was not wetted, and two days later there were two 1/4-inch-wide cracks. How can a builder disregard standard construction practice in this way?

A: Your builder made a very foolish mistake, ignoring your reasonable request, shortchanging standards of practice and then leaving you with the consequences.

By foregoing a common construction procedure, he demonstrated poor business judgment and may now be poised for lengthy legal exercises.

Concrete cures best when it cures slowly. This is common knowledge within the building industry.

On large-scale concrete projects, such as multilevel parking facilities where maximum strength is critical, workers routinely spray water on newly formed concrete.

On some jobs, fresh cement is sprayed with oil to forestall evaporation and maintain the water content of the mix. To illustrate the advantages of slow curing, some of the hardest concrete in the world is found at the foundations of bridges, where the material has been submerged in water for years.

Slow curing is routinely endorsed by cement manufacturers. When aided by applied moisture, it significantly enhances the overall strength of concrete.

As much as 40% of the integral bonding can depend upon the slowness of the hardening process. Builders who disagree with this may simply be in too big a hurry to move on to the next job.

*

If you have questions or comments, contact Barry Stone through his Web site at http://www.housedetective.com. Distributed by Access Media Group.

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