If you read this column often, you know how I feel about the fear-mongering approach we so often see in today’s real estate and mortgage how-tos. It’s hard for me to get behind any "advice" that attempts to position real estate consumers and their advisors in an adversarial face-off, or seeks to further foment the division and paranoia already pervading the real estate ether. My sense is that the most paranoid buyers are not necessarily the ones that save the most money and get the best deals. In fact, I’ve seen paranoia cause people to make poor, panic-based decisions and incorrectly suspect very well-intentioned advisors of steering them wrong, alienating themselves from all the legitimate folks and essentially delivering themselves into the hands of the folks they should really be avoiding.

Whew — glad I got that out.

Book Review
Title: "Homebuyers Beware: Who’s Ripping You Off Now? What You Must Know About the New Rules of Mortgage and Credit"
Author: Carolyn Warren
Publisher: FT Press, 2009; 288 pages; $17.99 list ($13.59 on amazon.com)

If you read this column often, you know how I feel about the fear-mongering approach we so often see in today’s real estate and mortgage how-tos. It’s hard for me to get behind any "advice" that attempts to position real estate consumers and their advisers in an adversarial face-off, or seeks to further foment the division and paranoia already pervading the real estate ether.

My sense is that the most paranoid buyers are not necessarily the ones who save the most money and get the best deals. In fact, I’ve seen paranoia cause people to make poor, panic-based decisions and incorrectly suspect very well-intentioned advisers of steering them wrong, alienating themselves from all the legitimate folks and essentially delivering themselves into the hands of the folks they should really be avoiding.

Whew — glad I got that out.

But why am I going there here? Well, at first glance, "Homebuyers Beware: What You Must Know About the New Rules of Mortgage and Credit" positions itself to take that paranoia-cultivating approach. In bold red and black, the cover inquires "Who’s Ripping You Off Now?" and elsewhere promises to "(e)xpose new secrets, lies and scams the mortgage industry doesn’t want you to know about."

This I don’t love. And outside of the fact that it is eye-catching and might be argued to enhance the book’s sales, I don’t really get it. It’s not the most unique approach, and the author, Carolyn Warren, is in fact a player in the mortgage industry and throughout the book mentions herself and other mortgage professionals she knows who share the ultimate priority of their clients’ best interests.

Warren even acknowledges that paranoid borrowers don’t think straight, as she tells the tale of a woman who filed a formal complaint against her for pointing out the exorbitant fees and interest she was being charged for a subprime loan.

Once I got past my ever-increasing irritation at this now-ubiquitous borrower vs. broker slant, however, I was quite pleasantly surprised at what lay between the covers of "Homebuyers Beware." In fact, I found it to be full of how-to guidance, misconception-busting material, and very usable letters, scripts and questions for today’s borrowers to use in very real-life situations.

In fact, the real-worldness of "Homebuyers Beware" was far and away its strongest suit — and that’s a big deal in the mortgage advice genre. So many mortgage guides are outdated or prioritize the easy loan types to discuss (e.g., conventional), ignoring that FHA and other government-backed loans are rapidly increasing in use by buyers coast to coast. …CONTINUED

Many of these guides often also seem to avoid dealing with issues real-world borrowers run into that seem like irritating minutiae but actually create the contours of a realistic borrowing experience.

Not so with "Homebuyers Beware." Warren covers topics I have never seen covered elsewhere, but that I hear real-life buyer/borrowers ask about all the time, and she covers them concisely yet thoroughly.

For example, she shatters the common misconception that those free credit reports one can order via the TV commercials are a good substitute for the reports pulled by mortgage brokers. She covers what happens when you go online and click on those "let mortgage lenders compete for your business" adverts.

She gives some bullet points about when you can buy another home after you’ve lost one to foreclosure or short sale. She covers how to know when you should lock your interest rate. And the answers she gives ring truly useful for those who actually want to close their transactions, unlike the authorial advice I’ve seen in many books, which recommend borrowers take courses of action unlikely to ever result in a closed escrow.

And Warren doesn’t stop there. She provides guidance on the question of whether to work with a broker, bank mortgage representative or a direct lender — this is probably the No. 1 mortgage question borrowers nationwide ask me in my various social networks. She provides a line-item description of all the fees one might see on a good faith estimate, and one of the most realistic and accurate written explanations I’ve ever seen of which line items are legitimate, which are bogus, which to suck up and which to protest.

These topics might seem excessively micro, but in my experience they are very frequently asked questions among wannabe homebuyers, who I think should buy the book, cover the publisher’s cover with brown paper like we did in high school, get out the highlighter and sticky notes, and go to town.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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