Bring me your old, your tired, your real estate cliches yearning to breathe free.

I refer to a survey that proclaimed that "men take the lead in home-buying tasks . . . 60 percent of American men clearly see themselves as having primary responsibility for the tasks associated with buying a home."

I chuckled at the absurdity. Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services interviewed 1,000 men and 1,000 women who either had fairly recently purchased a house or intended to buy soon. One finding struck me as particularly dubious: About 47 percent of the men said they--not their female partners--made the final decision on whether to buy a particular house.

Now, no matter how much society may have changed in recent decades, it's still practically gospel in the real estate business that women dominate the decision-making process.

Picture Ralph and Alice Cramden riding around with the real estate agent. Alice is beaming and Ralph is steaming. You just know that Alice is going to get that house. It may be exaggerated sitcom sexism, but it's the enduring image nonetheless.

So I presumed the survey had jumped the tracks. But after talking to about half a dozen real estate agents and builders, I'm reconsidering.

Here's the conventional wisdom, from builder Andrew Ferris of Ferris Homes in Northfield, Ill.: "Typically, the man says, 'Okay, we're going to buy a house, and here's how much we're going to spend.' She gets whatever she wants, up to a point where they have gone over their budget, and he says, 'Okay, that's it.' "

Seconded by Honore Frumentino, an agent with Koenig & Strey Inc. in Deerfield, Ill.: "In terms of financial parameters, the men make a lot of the decisions. But women decide which house to live in. Women start visualizing living here and moving in. If the other agent says the wife loves it and the husband is not too sure, it usually means that within about three days, we get an offer from them."

Yes, and no, I hear from others in the business. Things may be changing, partly because of age and partly because of lifestyle.

"We have a lot of young couples here," said Jeanine Vonder Smith, who sells new houses at Marquette's Landing in Romeoville, Ill. Vonder Smith has worked at various developments, and she sees something different about young, usually first-time buyers. "The men have been a lot more involved than at other places," she says. "It's usually a 50-50 process."

At the other end of the time line, men are taking the lead, reports Lynn Romanek Holstein, sales director at Royal Ridge in Northbrook, Ill. Her customers are well-heeled empty nesters who, surprisingly, often walk into her sales office with the husband well out front, she says.

"In a majority of sales, the men are spearheading it. The men want a nice, tidy package," she says. "They may have another home in Florida or Arizona, and they want a home here that they don't have to take care of."

Their wives aren't so sure, she says. "The wives are still packing up the kids' college stuff from 15 years ago. They don't really want to move."

Not that they're kicking and screaming, Holstein says. But once they get into making selections of tile, flooring, etc., they start to see their purchase as "home."

Just when I was starting to worry that I was going to be sent to a remedial women's-studies class, along comes pragmatist Pam Ball, a longtime agent at Baird & Warner's Chicago office:

The dynamic is "less gender-specific and more task-oriented," she says. "There's always one person in a couple who wants the paper"--the listing sheets, the market analyses and all of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the tide of the home-buying process.

"One person has the folder. It doesn't mean that it's male or female. The paper person, the detail-oriented person, the one who knows where the tax returns are kept," she says, "that's who's going to lead the decision."