- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

Most people like to have things in black and white before signing on the dotted line. If you are looking to buy or sell your home, it's niceto have something to refer to.

A good real estate book can be a sort of ready reference to set you up, get you going, and take you through the ins and outs of what will be one of the most important transactions of your life.

Yet of all the things we rely on books for, real estate books present a particular set of problems.

For one thing, there are so many out there. Venture over to your local large chain bookstore, and you are faced with rack upon rack of books that promise that you will "Sell Your Home in Five Days" or that you can "Buy Your Home With No Cash."

Then there are some real estate agents, who for the most part would rather have you talk with them than consult someone else, even if only through the pages of a book.

Small wonder, though, with chapters such as "How to Handle the Agent" or "What Your Agent Doesn't Want You to Know."

Finally, there is the information itself. How accurate is it? Is it appropriate to your particular situation? Suppose the market has changed dramatically since the book was published. Is what you are reading really going to help you save money or get more home with less credit?

"We don't really recommend specific books," says Tony Borgia, an agent at Long & Foster's Georgetown office. "But we do offer our own Home Seller's Guide." Available at any Long & Foster office, the Home Seller's Guide contains basic, easy-to-understand advice about putting your house on the market, contracts and settlement.

Long & Foster also can provide a video about how to prepare your home for sale.

"Frankly, I think my husband and I can give you better advice than any book," says Ellen Levy, who has been selling real estate in northwest Washington for the past 21 years. "We've got years of experience that we can draw on to help you."

Mrs. Levy cites a recent instance where she was able to get a client a 30-year fixed mortgage at 5 percent. "We know about financing, property values, condition, and just about anything you would need," she says. "So the client was able to get more house. Books are just not a substitute for that."

If you are just looking for basic information, practically any book on the real estate section shelves can tell you about cleaning up your home before showing it, how different mortgages work, or why certain houses are worth more than others.

The differences are all in the presentation. Is the type easy to read? Are there charts and worksheets to help you? What about fast facts? A book about real estate is hardly a novel. Few people are going to read the thing from cover to cover.

Instead, you'll want to zero in on the chapters or sections concerned with the information you need. You don't need a lot of boilerplate.

Ruth Rejnis' "The Everything Homebuying Book" is one example of the genre. It's packed with information probably more information than you need to know, with some advice that you could probably figure out on your own.

Still, this book that promises "everything you need to know before you make the most important purchase in your life," takes you through the process of home buying in a clear, comprehensive way.

It also is easy to follow. The user-friendly design doesn't pack too many words on the page. Tips and bullets let you focus on information that advances your understanding of the process without going into too much detail. The price is right, too, just $12.95 in a field where similar books can cost as much as $30.

"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying and Selling a Home," by Shelly O'Hara and Nancy D. Warner, also offers basic information in a frank, easy-to-read style. If you are not put off by the title and don't mind your friends seeing you haul it around under your arm, the "Real Deal" or "Buyer Beware" tips sprinkled throughout the book can provide sound advice.

Better a dummy than an idiot? The Dummies series "House Selling for Dummies," "Mortgages for Dummies" and "Home Buying for Dummies" by Eric Tyson are all general overviews of the process, providing a sort of "heads up" before you start actively buying or selling your home.

If such words as escrow or amortization make your eyes glaze over, "Home Buying for Dummies" can be a boon, enabling you to talk with your broker without feeling like you guessed it a dummy.

Sometimes even the most educated consumer doesn't always ask the right questions. Sometimes you don't even know which questions to ask. If you are one of those people, "100 Questions Every First Time Home Buyer Should Ask: With Answers From Top Brokers Throughout the Country," by Ilyce R. Glink, can help you frame them.

Miss Glink, whose column regularly appears in the Friday Home Guide, also has written "10 Steps to Home Ownership: A Workbook for First-Time Buyers," which is filled with worksheets to help you puzzle out the process.

If you are a first-time home buyer, Robert Irwin's "Buy Your First Home" will explain how to determine what is the best house for your price range. As home buyers increasingly rely on the Internet for information, Mr. Irwin makes available a number of on-line resources that do everything from investigating available properties to getting your credit history.

Full of tips and other kinds of insider information, such as why you shouldn't be buying a corner house, the book is an ideal step-by-step walk-through for the novice buyer.

Anticipating mistakes can go a long way to helping you save money in the long run.

"The 106 Mistakes Homeowners Make (And How to Avoid Them)," by Gary Eldred gives specific information about everything from buying the wrong house to not buying anything at all.

Some general information books seem tailored only to those living in large metropolitan areas, but "106 Mistakes" addresses issues for those living in small towns and rural areas. Mr. Eldred, known nationally for his "Stop Renting Now" seminars, uses experiences from home buyers and others in the real estate industry to provide clear, concise information about what to avoid in the process.

He even lists his telephone number and e-mail address for those who need more assistance.

Selling your house? You may want to check out "Dress Your House for Success: 5 Fast, Easy Steps to Selling Your House, Apartment, or Condo for the Highest Possible Price" by Martha Webb.

Let's face it: If your house is cluttered already, you may not have the wherewithal to get rid of it all on your own. Miss Webb's five-step program, uncluttering, cleaning, repairing, neutralizing and "dynamizing," is keyed to your getting the most money for your house.

Once you've moved beyond the basics of buying and selling, however, things prove a bit murkier. Often, you'll find conflicting advice about buying foreclosed real estate or buying a home with bad credit.

"How to Sell Your Home Without a Broker," by Bill Carey, Chantal Howell Carey and Suzanne Kiffmann, is helpful for those who would like to venture into the for-sale-by-owner market. It has worksheets and checklists de-signed to help you negotiate what can be a difficult process.

Still, if you are dealing with anything more than the fundamentals, it may be well worth your while to consult a broker who can tailor advice to your particular situation.

"My favorite book is still 'How to Lose Your Shirt in Real Estate,' by Tracy Sandberg," says Mrs. Levy, who says she rarely recommends any other book to her clients. The book, written in 1983, is now out of print.

"It was written by someone who read a book, did everything the book told him to do and still, he lost his shirt," she says. "It's a prime example of why you need to deal with an experienced broker who really does know the ins and outs of real estate."

More info:

• "The Everything Homebuying Book: From Open House to Closing the Deal, Everything You Need to Know Before You Make the Most Important Purchase of your Life," by Ruth Rejnis, Adams Media Corp., 1998.

• "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying and Selling a Home (Third Edition)," by Shelly O'Hara and Nancy D. Warner, Alpha Books, 2000.

• "Home Buying for Dummies (Second Edition)," by Eric Tyson, Hungry Minds Inc., 2001.

• "100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask: With Answers From Top Brokers From Around the Country, (Second Edition)," by Ilyce R. Glink, Times Books, 2000.

• "10 Steps to Home Ownership: A Workbook for First-Time Buyers," by Ilyce R. Glink, Times Books, 1996.

• "Buy Your First Home," by Robert Irwin, Dearborn Trade, 2000.

• "The 106 Mistakes Homeowners Make (And How to Avoid Them) (Second Edition)," by Gary W. Eldred, John Wiley & Sons, 1998.

• "Dress Your House for Success: 5 Fast, Easy Steps to Selling Your House, Apartment or Condo for the Highest Possible Price," by Martha Webb, Crown Publishing, 1997.

• "How to Sell Your Home Without a Broker," by Bill Carey, et al., John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

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