Purchasing a house can be the most nerve-wracking experience (right next to birthing a child) for a first-time buyer. So many expectations become attached to the decision that it can easily turn a pleasant couple into two head-spinning bundles of anxiety.

Questions begin with, "Can I afford the home?" and move quickly down the rabbit hole:

  • "Am I ready for the responsibility of maintaining a home of my own?"
  • "How powerful is the garbage disposal?"
  • "Do I love this neighborhood?"
  • "Does the neighbor always keep his garbage can there?"
  • "Are the schools in this district good?"
  • "Where’s the bus stop?"
  • "Can I imagine cooking Thanksgiving dinner right here in this kitchen?"
  • "Where would we start the buffet line?"

Every detail becomes important — from the shape of the tile in the shower to the height of the backyard fence. So it is that dealing with first-time, head-spinning buyers can sometimes take you to your limit.

Like talking to a 5-year-old, it can be tempting to start answering their questions with, "Because I said so!"

That’s when it’s time to stop … everybody take a breath.

All those questions are important. Every single one needs to be answered. But instead of letting them machine-gun interrogate you until your knees buckle, consider helping your buyers organize their thoughts into three basic categories:

1. Livability. Every question about the home’s design, layout and potential expansion comes under the heading of livability. The house must function for the buyer, not the other way around.

Location does not trump livability. No matter if it is a vacation/income property or primary residence, the most important factor is: Can you (or someone renting the home) comfortably live in this place?

If they must have four bedrooms, then no, the three-bedroom townhouse with the extra-large closet probably will not work out well in the long run. Even if it does have a nice view.

2. Inspections. Put extra effort into the inspections and follow-up repair bids. Every buyer (first-time or not) needs to be ready and willing to shell out cash ahead of time for thorough inspections of the entire property.

Do not rely on prior inspection reports or the "solid-gold word" of the seller. In my opinion, the inspections are the most important piece of the real estate transaction. Buyer beware!

And then, when you find out that the entire electrical job was done with coat hangers and a 9-volt battery pack, be prepared to gather repair bids. No, don’t rely on the sellers to fix it themselves — that’s just silly.

Repairing deferred maintenance or faulty wiring should have a direct effect on the purchase price — and the negotiations can then begin in earnest.

3. Offers. Buyers should offer what they can afford, not what they think the sellers would take six months from now, after the dip in the stock market and the big storm that knocked the power out down the street.

Buyers often pre-negotiate with themselves. Before they ever even contact the sellers with an offer, they’ve somehow "determined" what the seller thought they might offer, what their imaginary counteroffer was, and then the final price.

I fault a lot of agents for encouraging this behavior. An offer is the beginning of a conversation between buyer and seller. Let it be so. The seller wants to sell, the buyer wants to buy. And that’s it.

Don’t encourage your buyers to make it so much more difficult on themselves. If the home is priced reasonably, buyers should be encouraged to make an offer they can live with for the rest of their lives.

So there you go. My two cents on how to streamline the buying process for the head-spinners. It’s all about preparation. And antacid.

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