Book Review
Title: "Before You Buy: The Homebuyer’s Handbook for Today’s Market"
Author: Michael Corbett
Publisher: Plume, 2011; 304 pages; $15

In my circle of friends, celeb-watching on TV shows like "E! News" and "Extra" is a guilty pleasure — a break from the smart woman’s circuit of the gym, kids’ homework, Huffington Post, NPR, and prep reading for a day’s work as a lawyer, doctor or writer.

So those of us who are real estate-minded can feed the empty celebrity craving — sans at least some of the guilt — by tuning in to "Extra" and perusing the real estate eye candy that is "Mansions and Millionaires."

"Mansions and Millionaires" host and longtime real estate investor Michael Corbett leaves his star-studded real estate métier and brings his real estate know-how to us little people with his latest book, "Before You Buy: The Homebuyer’s Handbook for Today’s Market."

Despite Corbett’s Hollywood glam — which comes from decades as a soap actor and celebrity reporter — and his long side business flipping houses, he describes his own philosophy as "extremely conservative when it comes to real estate."

From that place comes the book’s mantra of helping homebuyers make decisions that are "safe, sane and smart" — Corbett says he’d rather see a buyer miss out on a deal than commit the errors that led so many to experience housing distress and foreclosure over these last few years.

"Before You Buy" starts out making the case for why buyers should buy, and why now is a good time. Corbett covers both the financial and lifestyle advantages of homeownership, and briefs readers on the current opportunity created by record-high affordability conditions.

Lest you think he’s being overly dismissive of the market’s volatility, Corbett also provides the "Nine Nasty Sins of the Market Crash," sketching out the errors homebuyers made leading up to the housing crisis, in an effort to keep readers from repeating these mistakes.

Next, Corbett moves on to provide tools for readers to formulate their own answers to a number of questions smart buyers have that begin with the words, "How much?" Here, he covers everything from how much cash it takes to buy a home, to the ongoing costs of homeownership, to how much home a buyer can afford with the resources available.

Corbett then walks readers through the process of preparing their credit for a mortgage application, realistically defining the home they are looking for, and evaluating homes based on their age and their type (i.e., single-family homes vs. condominiums).

Corbett excels at harnessing his expertise in home rehabbing when it comes to teaching buyers how to estimate repair costs on target homes and incorporating them into the offers they make.

The next couple of chapters brief readers on Corbett’s take on whether to work with a real estate agent (do) and his three-step process for house hunting (online, via open houses, then with your agent). (Full disclosure: I am briefly referenced in this chapter, where I extol the virtues of using the Web as a house hunting tool.)

Next, Corbett walks readers through a brief overview of need-to-knows for buying short sales or foreclosures, before devoting the last quarter of the book to the nuts and bolts of the homebuying process, from deciding what to offer, through contract and inspections to closing.

"Before You Buy" is a thorough, basic primer on the process of buying a home, well-suited to the first-time homebuyer who has no clue about where to start. It’s full of very basic checklists, chapter-summarizing bullet lists, and sidebars containing pithy but handy tips.

If you’ve purchased a home before, you will likely find "Before You Buy" too basic for your needs, though Corbett does try to update the otherwise tried-and-true information in the book for the nuances of today’s market.

Much of the information in this book is available freely online and elsewhere, but if you’re a first-time buyer who wants to have a hard copy, soup-to-nuts guide at hand, this book is a good choice.

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