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The road to buying a house is paved with dwindling bank accounts, devious brokers, and home owners who (you hope) are desperate to sell. Yes, it's a challenge. But with the help of these easy to follow instructions, you can negotiate your way into unthinkable debt.

1. Decide you must buy a house because your present one is:
a. too small;
b. too large;
c. non-existent.

2. Review monthly budget. Go over it again. Accuse each other of fiscal malfeasance. Curse invention of cash machine. Figure how much you'd save by giving up meals.

3. Calculate what you can afford to pay. Promise yourselves not to exceed it by thirty grand.

4. Choose where you'd like to live. Check real estate ads. Call a few brokers. Select more realistic locale.

5. Meet with highly touted broker. Wonder if he ever sold used cars.

6. Advise broker of preferences about neighborhood, school system, house type, cost. Watch him laugh.

7. Tell broker the top price you're willing to pay. Make the mistake of being honest. Spend the next month looking at houses $50,000 over budget.

8. Switch brokers.

9. Spend two weekends scouting houses within your means. Houses that would give any self-respecting slumlord a bad name. Tell broker you won't buy a handyman's special, unless it comes with a handyman.

10. Up ante by $15,000. Decide you can swing extra cost by giving up luxuries ... like heat.

11. Tour houses only a bit better than those you saw before. Houses that are about to fall down. Houses that have never met paint.

12. Realize you can afford a nicer home only if you borrow from relatives. Think about consequences. Decide to do it anyway.

13. Visit a house that's smaller than you want and on the wrong side of the tracks, but that somehow feels right. Just as you're about to commit, realize you've been duped by the aroma of apple pie.

14. Take breather from house hunting. Reevaluate your home. Wonder whether you can stay there after all, if you knock down a wall and throw out everything you own.

15. Return to first broker and tell him your new top price. This time he only giggles.

16. Spend weeks looking at houses while interest rates rise. Hate them all. (Houses and rates.) Quarrel with spouse over whether to compromise. Then, just as both of you are about to give up, find house of your now modified dreams.

17. Wonder if you can afford it even with loans from both pairs of parents. Conclude you can't unless you each get a twenty percent raise. Decide to buy it anyway.

18. Call broker. Find out that five minutes ago another couple put deposit on the house. Cry. Blame broker. Blame spouse. Blame sellers. Blame conniving buyer who stole your home. Buy voodoo doll and put hex on sale.

19. Voodoo works -- the house is yours. Call attorney, parents, many banks. Review personal property that comes with house. Become obsessed by ancient curtains the sellers refuse to leave behind.

20. Be persuaded not to kill deal despite curtain calamity. Sign contract. Apply for mortgage. Spend your days hoping the loan will come through ... and your nights hoping it won't.

21. Hire an inspector to check out house. Find out termites have been feasting on it for years.

22. Order title search. Learn that a piece of the driveway's on public land. Learn that a neighbor's fence is on your future land. Worry. Learn there's no reason to worry. Wonder why you bothered with a title search.

23. Qualify for mortgage. Celebrate. Suddenly realize there's no way out.

24. Arrange for closing, insurance, movers, utility hook-up, phone installation. Remind parents about loans. Deal with their second thoughts ... and yours.

25. Do final inspection. Argue about whether the water stain you just noticed was always there. Discover that what you thought was wall-to-wall carpeting, isn't.

26. Attend closing. Sign reams of paper you don't understand. Papers your lawyer says are "standard." Give lawyer money for valuable advice. Give sellers money. Give bank money. Give title insurer money. Ask if anyone wants your next born child. Leave with door prize -- a set of well-worn keys.

Now that you're a home owner, get ready for some surprises. A broken boiler. A roof that leaks. Floors that need replacing. A washing machine that refuses to rinse. Pipes that clank in the middle of the night. So keep your wallet open. The check writing's just begun.


© Madeleine Begun Kane. All Rights Reserved.
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