First Home Buyer's Guide

Options, Options

Buy a "Handyman's Special"

There are some homes that sit on the market for months because they have no curb appeal -- outdated fixtures, bad wallpaper, shag carpeting. Then there are those that need major work. Experts suggest that rather than simply using the home inspector your Realtor recommends, you find an independent one who has no allegiances and can honestly tell you what is wrong and how much it will cost you to fix it. Once you assess the amount of work the house needs, you can wind up in a great position to negotiate a deal -- especially if you can put your own sweat equity into the house. "My husband loves to work with his hands, so he was able to do a lot," says Andee Isaacs, a mother of two, in West San Jose, California, who found the fixer-upper of her dreams in Silicon Valley. Isaacs and her husband used contractors to do the more dangerous and complex work. "We still have some more work to do, but now we have a four-bedroom house in a nice neighborhood, which we couldn't have afforded otherwise," she says.

Buy a Home with Rental Income

After a frustrating search of homes that were out of their price range, Barbara Winett, a mother of two, in Hawthorne, New York, saw an ad for a huge home on a leafy residential street that included a studio apartment. "The asking price was higher than our budget, but we realized that we would make up that difference in rental income," she says, adding that a nearby medical school has provided a steady stream of tenants.

Share and Share Alike

For some people, the solution is to chip in with family or friends to buy a home, easing the financial burden but adding an emotional layer to the home-buying proposition. "When we found out the home we were renting was up for sale, I was pregnant with my third child and did not want to move," says Kari Reiss, in Brooklyn. The Reisses asked some close friends if they wanted to buy into the house, one family taking each floor. "All four of our names are on the deed," she explains.

Keep in mind that no matter how much you love each other, where money is involved, there will always be the potential for conflict. "If one person loses a job, it puts pressure on the other. Make sure you pay a lawyer to put in writing every possible thing that can happen," says Summers, such as, 'What will you do if one party wants to sell? And how will you split repairs?'"

The most important thing to consider when buying a home is how it will affect the life of the family in it, says Summers. "If you buy something you can't afford and you have to take two jobs, or you have a two-hour commute, you're taking away from time with your family," she says. "It's better to compromise on the size of your home than on the time you have with your family."

Rent to Buy

In today's housing market, with a lot of properties sitting unsold for months, many owners may consider a rent-to-buy option, where you work out an agreement that part of your rental check will go toward a down payment. The upside is that you get to "try out" the house before you commit, and you have time to save up some more money for the down payment. The downside is that you get no tax benefits, and if you decide not to buy, you lose any money you have spent on rent/down payments. "These deals are usually offered by private owners rather than Realtors, so read ads in the local paper, or drive around to see if you spot a sign," suggests Diana Brodman Summers, author of How to Buy Your First Home.

Marisa Cohen, a mother of two, is a writer in New York City.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, February 2007.

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