Before David A. Cohen and his wife Pava bought their new house in the Franklin Farms subdivision of Fairfax County, they wanted to check on the neighborhood's schools, its parks, its restaurants and where the nearest shopping centers were located.
But Cohen, a sales manager for Commonwealth Copiers, said he and his wife were too busy during the day to research their concerns.
"I wanted to locate at least two synagogues in the area, and no one could tell us where they were. Who has got the time to drive around?" Cohen asked.
So last month the couple visited Consumer Housing Libraries and within 90 minutes they learned more about the neighborhood than they could imagine.
Consumer Housing Libraries is a new privately owned resource center that provides free information on Northern Virginia's prolific new housing market to potential home purchasers. Its owners say the facility, which is at 11166 Main St. in Fairfax City, is designed to take the arduous legwork out of house-hunting.
Consumer Housing Libraries is the creation of Peter B. Crouch, 31, and Lori J. Poirier, 29, former project managers with a Silver Spring developer. The center supplies would-be home buyers with up-to-date information on new residential developments, mortgage rates, closing costs, tax rates, bus schedules, school systems, hospitals, day care centers and other concerns of new house buyers.
The basic idea behind the library, Crouch said, is to "provide a bridge between the builder and the buyer."
Crouch said his one-stop housing shop could save consumers long hours of research before deciding whether to purchase a new town house, single-family home or condominium.
The partners hired Poirier's 23-year-old brother James to market and sell the library's concept to builders and developers.
For $995 a month, developers rent display space on seven-foot-tall panels inside the center, on which they tack color photographs or detailed illustrations of their homes. But brochures and pictures are the only evidence of a sales pitch a visitor will encounter as Lori Poirier promises customers the quiet of a public library.
"This is all absolutely free to the consumer. There are no referral fees . . . and no sales people to push," she said. "We're simply providing needed information."
Since the library opened five weeks ago, Lori Poirier has signed up 14 developers to advertise residential communities at the library, where reference materials include information on Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the Cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax. Crouch said they also have a limited new condominium listing for the District, and plan to open an office in Maryland this fall to cover new residential communities in Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Lori Poirier said Consumer Housing Libraries, which is open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, does not intend to replace the role of a real estate broker or mortgage broker in home-buying decisions.
"But after visiting us, a person can walk into a sales office and not just look around and shy away," she said. "They feel like they've already kicked the tires, and now want to sit down and talk business."
Poirier said a new home buyer typically visits a sales office three times before signing a home-purchase contract. With the library's collection of information on builders, real estate procedures and community services, trips to the sales office often are reduced.
"We're eliminating the information-gathering visit to the site. When people go to the sales office after seeing us, they've already compared the products, seen the floor plans and understood the community services. They are a whole different kind of client," Poirier said.
The center does not stock reference material on houses for resale. Crouch and Poirier decided to limit themselves to new houses because of the recent explosion in sales.
At first, Poirier said, she expected the bulk of their customers to be first-time home buyers with little or no knowledge of what to ask or what to look for when purchasing a new home. But after five weeks of business and more than 2,000 visitors, Poirier said her customers have ranged from "first-time buyers, fourth-time buyers and even empty-nesters."
Poirier and Crouch said they plan to open centers in Baltimore and Richmond after the suburban Maryland office is established this fall.