Plug in to the Internet
Old-Think: There's no substitute for home visits and neighborhood tours when looking for a house that's right for your family.
New-Think: Computers can be great time-savers for early-stage shoppers. The Internet can help you research home styles and prices, brokerage firm specialties, school district quality, mass transit availability, and other factors that may be important to families, such as proximity to religious institutions or availability of special types of childcare.
Take a lesson from Alberto Ibanez. When he and his wife decided they were ready to move out of New York City, they had plenty of questions. So Alberto narrowed their house hunt by using the Internet to compare the cost of houses in towns with strong school districts. (To check out different districts, go to www.greatschools.net.) Alberto also looked into costs for preschools to be sure they'd choose a town with affordable programs. Best of all, he was able to conduct his research at his own convenience, after work and when his children were asleep.
You may ultimately decide to work with a mortgage broker or apply directly to your local bank, but the Internet is also a good way to comparision-shop for interest rates and closing fees. However, there's a caveat: Watch out for too-good-to-be-true offers, such as 120% financing and interest-only mortgages. In addition, never provide confidential data unless you're familiar with the company, its site is secure (the Web address will begin with "https"), and there's a good reason why you're being asked this information. For example, there's no justifiable reason for a site to ask for your Social Security number, bank account specifics, or credit-card information unless you're actually applying for a loan online.
Few life experiences offer a greater reward than buying a home your family will be happy in. But house-hunting, especially in today's economy, requires patience, careful attention, and perseverance. "If you commit yourself financially in ways that are clearly risky and something goes wrong, your family will be in trouble," says Steinmetz. "So the most important rule to remember is the most simple: Put your family's financial health first."
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the May 2004 issue of Child magazine.