"Why is it," Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger recently lamented, "that one can transfer title in a multi-million-dollar jumbo jet with less complexity and less paperwork than is involved in the sale of a single-family house?"
In the good old days, after one found property to buy, the deal was completed with a single deed to the property and a handshake. To add to the symbolism of the feudal days, a token -- such as a peppercorn or a twig from the property -- was handed over between the buyer and seller.
Unfortunately, it is not simple today. Anyone who has recently purchased property can tell you about those strange terms and those complex financing arrangements that one must learn when entering into the home buyer's marketplace.
Michael Sumichrast, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders, and Ronald Shaffer, feature editor of the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal, have combined talents to write this book.
In his introduction to the book, Sen. William Proxmire, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, says that the authors "have succeeded in organizing and presenting a goodly amount of information needed by prospective homebuyers, sellers and anyone else who wants to understand the operation of housing markets. They have, in short, provided something of value for everyone."
The book presents an interesting overview of many of the areas that concern the potential buyer or seller of a house. While many of the so-called home buyers' guides gloss over such matters as location and assessing the future of a neighborhood, the Sumichrast/Shaffer book has valuable hints for the novice consumer.
"As a homebuyer you probably are looking for a home that is both a good place to live and a solid investment," the authors note. "The secret is to find an area that is still on the upswing or one that is going through a rebirth, and to avoid an area that is about to decline."
One question generally asked by all home buyers -- whether first timers or old pros -- is about mortgage financing. How much can I afford? Where can I find mortgage money? What is the monthly payment? Should I pay points? Are there alternative financing arrangements available, and do they make sense for my budget?
Here, "The Complete Book of Homebuying" is perhaps at its best. An extensive discussion of financing factors is presented in Chapter 8, and goes into such details as the common types of mortgages, innovative mortgages, and how to apply for a loan.
In a bit of irony, however, this reviewer notes that the sub-head to the chapter on financing contains the following quote:
"Going ahead with the neutron bomb would be sheer waste. We already have something that destroys people, and leaves buildings intact. It's called a 10 3/4 percent mortgage." Where can we get that rate today?
Although the book makes reference to home buyers, one chapter -- "Be a FISBO, and Other Ways to Sell your Home" -- is particularly interesting.
FISBO -- for the uninitiated -- stands for "For Sale By Owner." Sumichrast and Shaffer do highlight the fact that it is possible to sell your house yourself. According to the authors, "nobody knows for sure how many of the 3.5 million or so existing homes sold in the United States each year are sold by sell-it-yourselfers, but estimates run as high as 10 percent."
Only one substantive criticism must be noted. While the book is entitled "The Complete Book of Homebuying," one significant item in the home buying process appears to be completely ignored. There is no discussion that this reviewer can find (there is no index either) dealing with legal matters surrounding the purchase and sale of a house. In order to be a truly "complete" book, a chapter should be added discussing this important aspect of home buying.