If you or a friend is thinking about buying a new or resale home, first read “The New Complete Book of Home Buying” by Michael Sumichrast and Ronald G. Shafer with Martin A. Sumichrast. This is, by far, the best “how to buy a home” book of 2004.

The prior edition of this book was published in 1980. Since then, the residential real estate industry has completely changed, mostly for the better.

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Mortgages are now easily available, even for home buyers with bad credit. Zero-cash down-payment mortgages are obtainable by home purchasers with good credit and good income. But the national median home price has tripled since 1980 to almost $200,000.

Co-author Michael Sumichrast was a home builder who later became the chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders. Mike is now retired. His son Martin, who was a schoolboy when the book’s prior edition was written, is now a Charlotte, N.C., businessman who added research and a younger approach to the book, especially the chapter on Internet resources. Co-author Ronald G. Shafter was a Wall Street Journal reporter for 38 years who covered housing issues.

Although this was a team effort, this is still mostly Michael Sumichrast’s book.

This easy-reading book is filled with practical advice for both first-time and move-up (or move-down) home buyers. Just in case you think buying a house or condo might not be a great investment, take a look at the page 3 chart showing the annual percent price gain for new and resale homes since 1968.

The lowest nationwide annual gain was 2.1 percent in 1982; the highest was 14.4 percent in 1979. For 2004, the author-estimated average gain is 10.9 percent. No wonder investors are fleeing the stock market and investing in first, second and rental homes.

“Today, a record 68 percent of Americans own their own homes, up from 64.1 percent 10 years ago and 42 percent in 1940. More than 80 percent of older Americans own their homes, but the biggest gain in the past decade has been among people under age 25,” the authors report.

The special touches that add practicality and realism to each chapter are the “Mike’s favorite story about…” features where Sumichrast tells of personal experiences about the topic.

Also especially useful are the many charts and graphs, such as “how much house can you afford?” from Fannie Mae’s Web site, which considers family income and mortgage interest rate variables.

Throughout the book, the authors add humor to lighten the sometimes-routine home-buying considerations.

For example, in the condo and townhouse chapter, the authors explain about the rise and rebirth of condos. “The condo concept isn’t new. The first written documents for such housing date to before the Roman Empire. Legend has it that even Julius Caesar went out one day and bought a condo unit where, in the sales office, he ran into an old friend who was buying. And Caesar said to him, “Et tu, Brute?”

But my favorite author humor is in the chapter about closing the sale where the authors caution: “Calling on lawyers to simplify a complicated legal transaction is like asking Britney Spears to develop a tasteful dress code.”

Men will especially like the book’s emphasis on the home construction aspects. The numerous charts list, for example, home components and quality comparison considerations. The many checklists make it easy to compare one home against another by listing the major home purchase features to consider.

Although I thought the chapter on Internet resources for home buyers was superb, when I arrived at the later chapter on home-purchase negotiation strategies, I felt it was equally superior, but in a different way. Don’t miss the “bidding strategies” chart, which explains when to use various negotiation methods.

A book reviewer is supposed to find fault with every book. However, this one is a challenge to criticize because it thoroughly explains every important aspect of buying a house or condo.

But the book does have an “eastern bias” because it emphasizes closing settlements where the home buyer and seller meet at an attorney’s office to close the sale. Residents of states where banks, escrow and title firms are locations for sale closings will just have to ignore the quaint old eastern customs.

Chapter topics include “Home Sweet Home: Still the Best Investment You Will Ever Make”; “Holy Home Prices, or What Can You Afford?” “Home-Buying Strategies, or 50 Ways to Leave Your Landlord or Your Old House”; “Shopping on the Internet”; “Existing Houses versus New Houses”; “Shopping for a Good Buy: from the Outside”; “Shopping for a Good Buy: the Inside Story”; “Negotiating the Best Deal”; and “How to Mortgage Your Future and Find Happiness.”

There are several good home-buying books available. But this is the most up-to-date and best one for savvy home buyers who want to avoid costly mistakes. It’s also fun and very profitable reading. On my scale of one to 10, it rates an off-the-chart 12.

“The New Complete Book of Home Buying,” by Michael Sumichrast and Ronald G. Shafer, with Martin A. Sumichrast (McGraw-Hill, New York), 2004, $19.95, 234 pages; Available in stock and by special order at local bookstores, public libraries, and www.amazon.com.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center
).

***

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