Book Review
Title: "Buying a Home: The Missing Manual"
Author: Nancy Connor
Publisher: O’Reilly, 2010; 352 pages; $21.99

As far as provocative titles go, "Buying a Home: The Missing Manual" may not ooze "avant garde" at first glance. But if you, like me, keep tabs on the ever-increasing booklist of real estate titles, you might, like me, feel that to describe any book on homebuying as "the missing" one is to create some pretty big expectations.

If the title initially sparked my skepticism, it was only stoked by the cover’s short description of the author as a "real estate pro," juxtaposed against its long description of her background as a real estate investor who is "qualified" for a New York real estate license, and has written other books on Google and living "green." All of these things sounded a warning bleep for me, even before I could open the cover.

However, I was aware that "The Missing Manual" series was the brainchild of David Pogue, a New York Times columnist who I follow, and whom I particularly admire as a polymath — in other words, a guy who knows a whole lot of stuff about a whole lot of stuff.

So, I tried hard to keep an open mind about how much expertise this "pro" could possibly impart to readers on the subject of buying a home.

So I did — and was pleasantly surprised, for the most part. The fact is, homebuyers — and especially first-timers — speak plain English, not always the same language spoken by those who can accurately claim themselves to be bona fide real estate experts.

I don’t know that I’d say "Buying a Home: The Missing Manual" is revolutionary in the content it covers, or in any other respect, really. But it is a very accessible, very complete, concise and usable specimen of the how-to real estate genre — and one that is written in a simple, accurate voice that users will appreciate.

As with any self-respecting how-to tome in 2010, the book also has a companion Web presence replete with downloadable worksheets and links to online resources. (FYI, the difference between "The Missing Manual" series and, for example, the "For Dummies" series appears to be the former’s emphasis on all things online.)

Many real estate experts are guilty of giving information to consumers the way we’ve always thought of things. But consumers don’t naturally think of things in terms of good faith estimates and discount-point rate buydowns.

The strength of "Buying a Home: The Missing Manual" is that it is a primer on real estate that is organized and written on the terms an actual buyer probably uses in her head when she considers and makes her real estate decisions. It’s very orderly, commonsense and logical — maybe not to agents, but definitely to consumers.

Again, there’s nothing revolutionary about the sequence or subject matter of this book; it simply treats the process of homebuying as the process actually unfolds in realty, from Part I: Preparing for Home Ownership, to Part 2: Finding Your Home, to Parts 3 and 4, on Financing Your Home and Negotiating and Closing the Deal.

But it is somewhat more comprehensive than most homebuying how-tos, covering everything from architectural styles, to attorney and agent need-to-knows (including how agents get paid, a topic I feel is sorely neglected in most homebuyer education, and so remains a cloudy mystery to the average homebuyer).

Many other oft-neglected detail points made it into "Buying a Home: The Missing Manual," like a nice, non-crazy-making discussion of adjustable-rate mortgage indices and caps.

However, on occasion, the author’s lack of daily experience with the details of home financing for buyers other than herself shows through: She spends a good amount of ink discussing essentially extinct loan formats, like option ARMs and 80/20 loans, without even a mention that these loans no longer exist, for a buyer’s intents and purposes, or a much-needed discussion as to why (foreclosure crisis, anyone?).

Connor does, however, mention the dangers of interest-only ARMs, as shown so dramatically by the recent debacle.

I don’t know that "Buying a Home: The Missing Manual" lived up to the bar set so high by its title, but I doubt that it ever could have. In any event, buyers-to-be would do well to spend some quality time with this book, briefing themselves on the upcoming process, as well as on the book’s website, working through the materials provided there.

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