Smart Moves

Don't Rush Into House Purchasing

Two years ago, a young couple made the impulsive decision to buy a two-bedroom house in a brand-new subdivision. They were spurred by the price tag: $12,000 less than three-bedroom properties in the same development.

But soon after moving in, the couple realized their huge error. With a second baby on the way and dreams for a still larger family, they needed a place with at least three or four bedrooms. That's why right after moving in, they changed course and put their two-bedroom place up for sale.

"They allowed themselves to be dazzled by a bargain that wasn't really a bargain. What's more, they failed to ponder the many lifestyle implications of purchasing too small a house," says Sid Davis, the veteran real estate broker who listed the couple's property.

Davis, author of "A Survival Guide for Buying a Home," says most homebuyers are more thoughtful when planning a home purchase. But like the couple in this true story, a few experience buyer's remorse after choosing an ill-fitting floor plan or an uncomfortable neighborhood.

"You can't let emotions blind you to the consequences of buying wrong," he says.

Where you choose to live has countless implications, says Doro Kiley, a certified life coach who's helped a number of clients navigate real estate transitions. She urges clients to make a home choice within the context of their overall life plans.

Once you have a clear vision of your ideal home and location, you can begin taking into account such practical realities as financial limits and commuting distances. Here are a few pointers:

-- Find words to describe your ideal lifestyle.

Kiley recommends that couples planning a home purchase first write down their respective visions of a dream house. They should then share their visions, combining the key elements of both into a single statement.

Written statements help people clarify their thinking and refine the details of their plans as they move through successive drafts. They're also a way to help reconcile differing views, she says.

Merrill Ottwein, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org), suggests that home-buying couples try to resolve their differences by distinguishing between "wants" and "needs."

For instance, a couple with four young children might decide that acquiring a place with five bedrooms is a genuine "need." But a formal dining room could easily slip into their "want" category.

-- Consider the implications of a lengthy commute.

According to Ottwein, one of the most wrenching trade-offs many families face is between a larger, newer house with a longer commute and a smaller, older place that's closer to a city center.

Homebuyers who consider an outer-tier suburb are often driven by the desire for a larger property or what they perceive to be better schools.

"Unfortunately, good schools often correlate with newer suburbs rather than older areas that are close in," Ottwein says.

But before you opt for a distant suburb, he strongly recommends you do morning and afternoon rush-hour test drives. This way, you'll know more precisely what sort of traffic to expect if you buy there, he says.

Ottwein adds that homebuyers should disabuse themselves of the notion that the current level of traffic congestion on their path will remain static. The odds are that the traffic will worsen as the years go on.

-- Take into account the demands of a large yard.

Many people with young children hang on tightly to the hope that their kids will have a large backyard where they can frolic. This aspiration can influence them to pick an outlying suburb at the expense of their convenience and commuting time.

But are the trade-offs necessary to acquire a large piece of land always worth it? Not necessarily, says Ottwein, noting that today's children often spend much more time in organized athletic and recreational activities than their parents did.

"They have little time for the sort of free backyard play their folks remember so nostalgically from childhood," he says of modern children.

-- Don't rush into the selection of a property.

Nowadays, those seeking a home in popular neighborhoods often face fierce competition from other bidders. They feel pressured to act quickly, lest they lose out to a rival. In the process, Ottwein says some buyers are now taking regrettable shortcuts -- rushing into a purchase without analyzing whether the property they buy truly matches both their primary wants and needs.

"With so much at stake, it's a horrible idea to buy any house before you're really ready. Don't let your competitive instincts trick you into the wrong choice," he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)

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