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Book Review of How To Buy Your First Home

Home Buying Advice From a Lawyer

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Jacket cover of How to Buy Your First Home

Beginner's primer for homebuying is an easy read.

©Sphinx® Publishing
By the time I finished the first three chapters of How to Buy Your First Home, Expert Advice from an Attorney, by Diana Brodman Summers, I was feeling as though the advice was comprehensive, easy-to-follow and beneficial for novice, first-time home buyers. But once I read past those chapters, things started to go downhill.

The book started off pleasant enough. Attorney Summers, a veteran home buyer who says real estate is her hobby, suggests a buyer needs three things to buy a home:

  • Patience
  • Internet access
  • Willingness to work hard

Since this book is a second edition and updated from its first printing, one would think a decent credit rating would have made it into the top requirements. After the subprime fiasco, it's practically impossible for a buyer with bad credit to obtain financing.

Getting Started Home Buying

The first three chapters -- on fixing your credit report, qualifying for a mortgage and figuring out how much home you can afford -- are chock-full of great tips and advice. Moreover, part of the recent additions to the book include pertinent web sites where buyers can find more information.

Beginning with chapter four, however, Summers says the best way to find out about real estate is to read the classified ads in your newspaper. I'm wondering if this chapter was overlooked in the revision. It's not a secret that very few real estate brokerages advertise in newspapers in major metropolitan markets, with the exception of perhaps new home builders. Buyers today get their information online.

One great tip from Summers is to take a trial run and do your weekly grocery shopping in the neighborhood where you want to buy. This way, you can compare your grocery receipt to the prices you pay at your existing store to determine if it will cost you less to live in your targeted neighborhood.

Working With Real Estate Agents

Summers cautions buyers about the pitfalls of working with certain real estate agents. She advises against working with a new agent and points out some of the inherent problems within the real estate industry -- all keen observations.

However, this reader came away with the impression that Summers doesn't particularly trust real estate agents and views them as a necessary evil in a transaction. No question about it, though, there are a lot of bad agents in the business, just like there are a lot of bad lawyers in the legal profession.

For example, she cautions a buyer never to disclose a top-end price to an agent because that agent will go for the throat just to earn more money. I suspect that if Summers took a break from painting agents greedy with such a broad brush, she might instead do the math.

On a typical 50% commission split, a buyer's agent would earn around $50 for a $5,000 price increase. I don't know any agents whose motives would be, "If I could just push this home buyer to cough up five grand more, hey, I can fill up my gas tank."

Summers also doesn't believe agents who say another offer is coming in, when 99 times out of 100, there is another offer. Nor does she believe in making counter offers nor negotiating. She walks away if her offer isn't accepted. But then, by her own words, she's a real estate hobbyist.

Mortgages and Offer Negotiation

With the exception of promoting 100% financing -- which is now non-existent apart from through hard-money lenders -- her chapters about mortgage types are excellent. Summers directs readers to the appropriate government web sites for more information.

Some readers may feel disappointed by the brief five-page chapter that discusses the legal aspects of real estate. You may expect to hear more about the legal side of things, especially since the book's sub-title is Expert Advice From An Attorney. But the author is an employment lawyer, not a real estate lawyer, so that advice is lean.

Summers devotes a grand total of three paragraphs to the subject of how to negotiate a real estate offer, which basically warn readers to simply offer the price they are comfortable in making and to stick to their guns. In short, take it or leave it. The rest covers contract contingencies and how to write the offer, but nothing more is said about the most important aspect of an offer, which is negotiation.

The remainder of the book talks about home inspections, appraisers, the closing process and how to avoid foreclosure. By the time I got to the chapter, titled "Staying Positive," in which Summers advises buyers to watch TV home shows, I was wishing I had reached the end of the book instead of having another 100 or so pages to go.

The TV show home gods must have heard my wish because it was granted. When I turned the page, I was at the end. Glory hallelujah, Divine Design. Pages 175 through 303 consist of a glossary, worksheets, appendix and an index.

If you're a first-time home buyer who is hoping to gain behind-the-scene tips or legal advice, there are better books available. But if you know absolutely nothing about buying a home and want basic information, this book may satisfy your quest. I give it a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.

How to Buy Your First Home, 2nd Edition, by Diana Brodman Summers. ©2003, 2005. Published by Sphinx® Publishing. Paperback. 303 pages.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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