Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

The First-Time Buying Jitters

She was a medical researcher for a Maryland hospital who hankered to finally leave the noisy apartment building where she and her husband had lived for more than five years. Once they hit their early 30s, she figured it was time for them to buy their first home.

Ashley Richardson, the real estate agent the couple had engaged to help them find their first home, showed the pair 15 townhouses that met their search criteria. The last one they toured -- a fully renovated property in a historic city neighborhood -- was a thrilling find for the researcher.

But in the end, the researcher’s husband refused to go forward with any home purchase, and the couple decided to stay in their rental unit indefinitely.

“He was afraid of the commitment involved in buying a home,” says Richardson, who’s sold property since 1993 and works for the Long & Foster realty firm.

Nowadays, she says it’s surprisingly common for would-be first-time buyers to back away from a purchase, though in many cases their withdrawal occurs at a later stage than it did for the researcher and her husband. Often, people back out after a home inspector checks out a house they plan to buy and finds faults.

There are, of course, many reasons why those who intend to buy their first home exit the process prematurely. In some cases, they fear the financial commitment, recalling how many Americans lost their homes to foreclosure during the Great Recession.

Here are a few common fears that afflict buyers and how to overcome them:

-- Fear of exposing a blemished credit history to a mortgage lender.

Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide to Buying a Home,” says many wannabe homeowners worry how their credit histories will be viewed by mortgage lenders. But he says most such anxieties are usually baseless.

Mortgage pre-approval, which lets buyers assess their borrowing capability before they head out to shop for a property -- is now easily obtained over the phone. Even so, Davis says some first-timers prefer to go to the lender’s office for pre-approval.

“If it makes you more comfortable, go see the lender in person, and ask your agent to go with you,” he says.

Also, to ensure they’re being quoted a competitive rate for their mortgage, he encourages all buyers to shop lenders before submitting a formal loan application.

-- Fear that family members will judge your buying choices negatively.

Most first-time buyers are in their 20s or 30s. On financial matters, many still look to parents for guidance. But sometimes, the intervention of elders can backfire.

“You don’t necessarily want to get your parents involved in your transaction. In many instances, in the name of protecting you from overpaying, they can blow up an otherwise good deal,” Davis says.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking help from your parents. But Davis says it’s wise to involve them early on -- not after you’ve picked out the property and are about to seal the purchase.

If you’re afraid to go forward without your parents’ help, Davis suggests you bring them along on your house-hunting trips. That way they can compare various alternatives and will likely give you more objective advice.

-- Fear of making a mistaken property selection.

Because they realize that the home-buying decision is a major one, Davis says many wannabe homebuyers become risk averse, worrying they’ll select the wrong property.

He says it’s not uncommon for young buyers seeking emotional safety to keep researching the market rather than making a decision. But even in neighborhoods where buyers now have the upper hand, purchasers can forfeit the chance to buy a home they love simply because they obsessed too long over the details.

“There’s often a downside to delaying. It’s not impossible that someone else will come in and snap up that home you adore,” Davis says.

Also, he says some sellers become so put off by indecisive purchasers that they refuse to deal with them.

Davis says the best remedy for home-selection anxiety is solid information. Work with a real estate agent who can accurately advise on the true market value of any property you’re considering, thereby reducing your chances of overpaying.

“It’s a good thing for young buyers to get a lot of hand-holding from a reputable agent, ideally one who enjoys helping first-timers,” Davis says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at