Advice for those nervous about buying a home now

Posted: Oct 02, 2008 12:01 AM
Advice for those nervous about buying a home now

They're a couple in their early 30s -- a computer technician married to a bank teller. They have stable jobs, a down payment in the bank, and an intense desire to escape their cramped apartment for a home of their own.

In fact, the couple has already picked out their ideal property -- a sprawling ranch-style house on a full acre. Plus they're convinced this is an opportune time to buy.

Still, the couple is racked with doubts and have yet to make a serious bid on the property. Are they crazy to consider buying in so tumultuous a real estate market? Their parents think so and call them often to urge that they hold off.

This couple's situation illustrates the pervasive confusion affecting prospective homebuyers at a time of economic uncertainty, says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide to Buying a Home."

One manifestation of buyer ambivalence is a common phenomenon: the withdrawn bid.

"People search around and around for the perfect house at a bargain price. When they find it, they're super excited and run to their agent's office to write an offer. But an hour later they tell the agent to tear up their bid," Davis says.

Of course, buyer ambivalence is understandable -- given the economic situation in the country. Turbulence on Wall Street, along with high gas and food prices and job jitters are combining to cause insomnia for many once-confident members of the middle class.

"It's difficult to get a handle on home values now -- or to accurately project what real estate will be worth in the future," Davis says. Even so, he insists that those who get a rock bottom price on a home in a desirable community will one day be glad they acted now rather than waiting.

Here are pointers for those now contemplating a home purchase:

Clarify your reasons for making a purchase.

Fear is a powerful force that can restrain people from going forward -- even when they believe it's in their interest to do so. But those convinced that now is a good time to realize a long-held housing dream shouldn't let ungrounded fears inhibit them, says Abraham Tieh, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (

"The main thing is to go into a purchase with your eyes wide open, plus every piece of solid information you can obtain," Tieh says.

Keep in mind, though, that there could be reasons why it might be imprudent for you to buy now, including near-term employment prospects or perceived job security.

One way to get your worries in perspective -- and to make sure you don't sabotage your own plans -- is to revisit your original reasons for buying a home.

"Postponing due to fluctuations in the real estate market could mean lost opportunity for you and your family if you pull out of the housing market and put your plans on hold," Tieh says.

Get a strong mortgage lender on your team to build confidence.

It's no secret that lenders now want to be doubly sure any home loan they originate will be solid. This means you'll need to be unusually well-prepared to answer the lender's request for documents, Tieh says.

"All your paperwork must be in order. I recommend that even before you go look at homes, you sit down with a good lender and go over all his requirements," Tieh says.

As proof of income, many mortgage lenders now insist on much more documentation than the customary pay stubs and W-2s. They may also require federal tax returns, for example.

Also, more lenders are now demanding proof that the funds you've amassed for your down payment have been in your savings or checking account for some time. That means you'll need to produce account statements showing the money is truly your own, which gives you a stronger stake in the property you buy.

"More lenders are now scrutinizing student loan documents to be sure you don't owe more than you claim to, and asking to see your Social Security card," Tieh says.

If you're self-employed, you can now expect your lender to do a rigorous review of documents related to your business.

But the time you spend documenting your eligibility for the home loan will be worth it if your lender gives you a "pre-approval" letter. This you can use as a bargaining chip when negotiating for the property of your choice.

Take your time choosing a home -- within reason.

Many neighborhoods now have an unusually large number of For Sale signs. This huge array of choices gives homebuyers yet another reason to delay commitment to any one property.

A long menu of options is obviously a positive for prospective buyers -- but not if they use it as an excuse to block forward movement toward their housing goals. Those who find themselves stumped by over-choice may wish to work with their agent to develop tighter screening criteria.

"If this is the right time for your family to buy a house, don't let the negative atmosphere around real estate discourage you. Use the abundance of choices to help you get precisely what you want," Davis says.

However, Davis cautions you to be wary of any real estate agent who tries to push you into buying any particular property -- no matter how low the price.

"Your real estate agent should never pressure you to buy one house or another. As buyers, you should always be the decision makers," he says.

To contact Ellen James Martin, e-mail her at