The Baileys had been house hunting for three days when finally they found what they thought was the perfect house. The two-story colonial, with a finished basement and good landscaping, was $94,000.

Mrs. Bailey had to fly back to Dayton, Ohio, in two days to close the sale on their first house, so they were anxious to buy. They also complained the houses were all beginning to look alike, and they couldn't remember which had the custom-built oak front door and which had the deck. They made an offer of $91,500 and were thrilled when they got the house for $92,000.

The Baileys do not consider themselves impulsive buyers. They had figured the maximum monthly payment they could afford after taxes and insurance was $470. The new house payment would be only $455. For technical considerations, such as heating, plumbing, wiring and construction, they had hired a pre-purchase home inspection firm to check the house. The inspector reported the house was in fine shape, but it could use more insulation in the attic.

As an extra precaution, the Baileys set aside $1,000 for unexpected repair and refurnishing costs. During the first year, that sum just covered the insulation ( $292), wallpaper ( $87), space heater for the basement ( $115), new washing machine ( $324), and curtains ( $135).

What the Baileys didn't consider and what ultimately made them miserable was how the house fitted -- or didn't fit -- their life style. When they first looked at the house, they were impressed with the cleanly painted walls, the new wall-to-wall carpeting and the drapes which matched perfectly with their own furniture. It didn't seem to matter that they had to walk through the living room to get to the kitchen. Mrs. Bailey loves formal entertaining; her elegant furnishings are being ruined by the constant traffic.

The Baileys' two sons are bored and discontent because the house is located in a stable neighborhood where all the children have grown and gone. During the summer, Mrs. Bailey is kept busy driving her sons three miles to a recreation program in a public school and five miles in the opposite direction to a park facility.

The Baileys' street does not have sidewalks, but because it is a side street, they had expected it to be quiet and safe for their sons' bike riding. After they moved in, they learned the street is used as a shortcut to a major highway by a steady stream of cars -- usually exceeding the speed limit.

A swimming pool and tennis court complex one-half mile away was one of the attractions which persuaded the Baileys to buy. They had assumed membership would be as moderate as the fee charged in Ohio. When they discovered they had to buy a $600 bond and then pay an annual feel of $150 to join, they had to settle for one weekend at the beach and two trips to a public indoor pool.

Another selling point for the house was the country atmosphere surrounding the development. The Baileys didn't realize the nearby farm fields are zoned for multiple housing. Now they must contend with construction noise and eventually their view will be blocked by high-rise apartment buildings.

The Baileys got a lot of floor space for their dollar, but to get the right price, they had to buy outside the beltway and add 20 minutes to Mr. Bailey's commute. When the boys get up for school, he is gone, and dinner has been pushed back to 7 p.m. They can afford their mortgage payments, but they can't afford a second car.

Home buyers can avoid the Baileys' plight by following these steps.

Decide what a house and its location must have to fit your life style.

Make sure you can afford the house (there are many books on the market which can help you compute your actual costs from monthly payments to maintenance).

Hire a professional to inspect the house's construction. (Books are also available with tips on how you can make your own inspection.)

Among the many books on the market: "How To Buy the Right House at the Right Price" by Robert W. Murray; "The Compelte Guide to House Hunting," Tyler Stewart Rogers; "Buyers' Handbook for the Single-Family Home," Steven James Lee.

List your preferences in priority and decide how much you are willing to sacrifice. You may not find the perfect house, but at least you will have a better idea of a house's advantages and disadvantages before you sign a contract.