While some Washington area home buyers are delaying the purchase of a new house because of the stock market's troubles, many are proceeding with their deals -- in some cases trying hastily to lock in their mortgages to take advantage of slightly lower interest rates.

Real estate agents throughout the Washington area said that home buyers aren't sure what to expect and that many do not understand the effect of the plummeting stock market on the purchase of a house.

Some buyers who were counting on using earnings from stocks to make deposits or down payments have canceled contracts at the last minute or postponed their searches until there is greater stability in the stock market, agents said. Such cases are more the exception than the rule, they said.

"There are a lot of questions from buyers out there," said Larry Doff, president of Real-Pro, an Annandale real estate agency. "People due to settle are asking, 'Should I go through with the deal?' But after they ask that, there's no more hesitancy. They're going ahead with the deal."

Numerous agents said there is a steady flow of buyers who have been putting off a decision to purchase a house in recent weeks because interest rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages were rising so rapidly. But with interest rates dropping as much as one percentage point on Treasury bonds and notes, which are used by many lenders as guidelines to set rates on mortgages, some would-be buyers have decided that now is the time.

The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) reported this week that the average interest rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage dropped nearly a point, from 11.78 last week to 10.95 this week. Rates are expected to drop to about 10.5 percent from the current levels.

"We've been very active over the last four or five days," said Dianne Barbrey, sales manager of Roberts & Lloyd Realtors in Manassas. "People are not coming in here talking about the stock market. They're coming in here and moving fairly quickly. They want to move to lock in a {lower} rate."

Angela Robinson, a real estate agent for Long & Foster in Prince George's County, said that the stock market crash may have meant bad news for some, but that "it has done nothing but good things for us. People buying homes are just watching the rates."

Many agents said that if the instability in the stock market continues and causes more problems with the economy, many people might stop buying. The recent half-percent decline in consumer spending is one sign that people might be getting concerned about whether to make a major purchase, such as a house.

"If the market can't calm down, people are going to be concerned about the direction of the economy," said Dorrie Jackson, president of Jackson-Temple Realtors in Vienna. "People might hold off on buying and put money in a safer area. But the main thing I've been telling some of my clients is that this isn't a time to panic. You really have to analyze where you are and where you're going."

Falling mortgage interest rates have been a relief to many agents who had been heading into one of their traditionally slower selling periods of the year at the same time that rising mortgage rates were forcing many potential home buyers to postpone their purchases.

In some cases, they said, the higher rates had made it impossible for first-time home buyers to qualify for loans.

"Nothing has fallen through and we're crossing our fingers that nothing does," said Elaine A. White, sales manager of Long & Foster's Potomac Village office, which covers an area where homes sell from $50,000 to $1.5 million. "But more people are thinking about renegotiating or putting off their transactions to see what's going to happen."

White said some of her clients who had planned on using money from stock market earnings to make deposits or down payments were putting off their decisions to buy until early next year in hopes of an improved stock market.

"We're telling some people to talk to their financial advisers to find out if they can find another way to make the down payment or deposit," she said.

James H. Steinmetz, a loan officer at a local mortgage banking firm, said he is grateful that the settlement on his house isn't scheduled until next spring. He was counting on using a large percentage of his earnings from the stock market and some of the proceeds from the sale of two homes to buy a new four-bedroom, two-bath home in Gainesville.

"I'm just waiting to see what happens," said Steinmetz, who has lost money in the stock market plunge. "I think the stock market will recover by the spring."

Sam D. Jackson, a real estate agent in a Shannon & Luchs MacArthur Boulevard office in the District, said many of his customers are not holding off their purchases. Two people who had money invested in the stock market have said, however, that they now have to wait.

In one case, Jackson said, one of his clients postponed the purchase of her "dream" condominium in the District. The woman, who did not want to be identified, was counting on her mother to help with the down payment from stock market earnings. The mother, however, lost a significant amount on "Black Monday," when the Dow Jones industrial average dropped a record 508 points.

William C. Stuart IV, a partner in the Chevy Chase realty firm of William C. Stuart & Son Inc., said he hasn't had any transactions affected by the stock market fluctuations, but said it has been "a little bit of a shaking-out period.

"I really haven't seen people jumping in," he said. "People are trying to make sense of what's going on. But the market is fairly favorable for the seller, because we still have a low inventory of available houses."

Kathie Eaton, a sales agent at Shannon & Luchs' Vienna office, said home buyers are concerned about what's going to happen from one day to the next. "It's certainly not the end of the world," she said. "We've been through worse times when rates were up around 14 and 15 percent. But this is the time of the year it's slower anyway."