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Where the Heart Is

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Home may be where the heart is, especially for newlyweds, but the stress caused by buying that home can make some people feel like they’re having a heart attack.

First-timers especially feel the crunch of open-house overload. It’s enough to make wedding planning seem easy. Don’t worry. Astute advice from experts across the state will help prevent buyers’ remorse.

Getting Started

Look to buy as soon as possible, says Anthony M. Kulp, a broker with Beach to Bay Real Estate Center in Lewes. Many young couples languish too long in renting purgatory. “You’re making someone else money,” he says. “You’re building someone else’s equity in a piece of property.”

Studies show that in the long term, a person who owned a home has a net worth significantly higher than someone who never did, says Linda Felicetti, a Patterson Schwartz broker and president of the New Castle County Board of Realtors.

People don’t necessarily have to shell out big bucks for this monster purchase either, says Dee Hake DeMolen, with the Dover-based Keller Williams Realty, Central Delaware.

“It’s not like in our parents’ day, when you had to have 20 percent down,” she says. “There are a lot of options out there for first-time buyers.” (For more information on assistance programs, see the sidebar on page 31.)

Buyers should, however, talk to a lender early in the process to establish a price range. “That’s where a lot of people make a mistake,” Kulp says. “They go out, and their eyes get bigger and bigger. They put in a contract, apply for their financing, and they can’t afford it.”

Look for a lender with a strong reputation, and always get multiple quotes,

says Bernard Doherty, a senior loan consultant in Wilmington.

He cautions rookie buyers against using an Internet lender. A local company lets you forge a deeper relationship.

“Having a person in front of you to answer questions will truly help when going through this process for the first time,” Doherty says. Plus, many Internet lenders don’t offer state or government programs for new buyers, which can make a huge difference when it comes time to put together a down payment.

While you’re looking for a lender, never pay for any services before applying for the loan. In particular, you shouldn’t have to pay for a good faith estimate or a pre-qualification letter, Doherty says.

The match game continues with finding the best real estate agent. Go with one who will take the time to sit down with you and find out exactly what kind of house you want.

For example, if you’re interested in a two bedroom, two bathroom ranch for $200,000, and the agent comes back with a three bedroom, three bathroom colonial for $275,000, it may be time to look elsewhere.

And if you’ve found an agent who seems great but is new to the industry, don’t be put off, Kulp says. Newer agents might be more aggressive, which could be to your benefit.

Finally, get some recommendations from colleagues, friends and family, Felicetti advises. “Word of mouth is always the best way.”

FINDING THE PERFECT HOUSE

Once you know your spending limits and have an agent, it’s time to start shopping around. The best tool to use is one at your fingertips: the Internet. Sites such as www.realtor.com
or www.pattersonschwartz.com allow users to search by number of bedrooms and bathrooms, price range and, most important, location.

“The big thing is to find the area where you want to be,” Kulp says. “If you want to be in a certain school district, then narrow it down to that district. Don’t be distracted.”

Crime and safety issues also factor into the decision. Real estate agents, however, have legal limits on what they can tell you, so a phone call to the local police department can’t hurt.

As a whole, the Delaware housing market remains strong, says DeMolen, who’s also president of the Kent County Association of Realtors.

“We have a strong economy,” she says. “We’ve seen a little drop in our market compared to two years ago, but it’s nothing like the rest of the country.”

Knowing that your property value won’t nosedive days after you move in should be a relief for first-time buyers. This is, after all, a place you’ll most likely park your car for at least a few years.

With that fact in mind, Kulp says, young home-seekers should look for an address that will suit their needs today—as well as down the line. If you don’t have kids now, but plan to by the end of the decade, something with a fenced-in yard on a quieter street might be best.

Other key factors, such as square footage, the number of bedrooms, and bathrooms or a furnished basement, can vary greatly between individual buyers. It’s up to you to determine what will turn a house into a home.

And remember, there’s no hard or fast rule on how many places to look at before you find that perfect property.

“I tell my clients, ‘I’m not going to sell you a house. The house is going to sell itself. You’re going to know.’” DeMolen says. “If it’s the first house, that’s OK. If it’s the 30th house, that’s OK, too.”

This whole experience can seem cutthroat and nerve-wracking, especially for newbies. All those interviewed recommend working with professionals to help beat the stress.

“We’re not asking for that 6 percent for nothing,” Swiney says. “We really do take a lot of the pressure off.”

LOOKING FOR HELP?

If you’re looking for financial help to buy your first home, the best place to look is the state, says Bernard Doherty, a senior loan consultant in Wilmington. The Delaware State Housing Authority offers several programs.

The Single Family Mortgage Revenue Bond Program, also called the First-Time Home Buyers Program, provides first mortgage financing at below-market interest rates to low- and moderate-income home buyers who haven’t owned a house in the past three years.

Another program, the Delaware Housing Partnership, provides up to $10,000 toward the down payment and closing costs. Interest accrues at 6 percent every June.

“This is the cool part,” Doherty says. “There are no monthly payments associated with it.”

However, it is considered a second lien on the property, he says, and recipients must take a course on home ownership.

Both of these programs have restrictions based on household income and the cost of the property. These numbers differ depending on the county.

For all the details, as well as additional programs offered by the Delaware State Housing Authority.

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