SMART MOVES by Ellen James Martin

Modified: February 11, 2014 at 10:21 pm •  Published: February 15, 2014

Some first-time homebuyers are so fearful of making a mistake that they’ll reject a well-priced dream property for an unusual reason.

That’s according to Ronald Woodall, who runs a real estate brokerage that does 80 percent of its business with first-timers.

“I’ve been in the business since 1999, and have heard some very strange excuses,” Woodall said.

For instance, he recalls one buyer who backed out of a deal for a ranch-style house he loved after spotting a black snake in the backyard, which he took as a “bad omen.”

Another buyer rejected the townhouse he’d chosen after concluding that its dark-green front door would fade too quickly, thereby requiring repainting.

“I suspect it’s often due to fear of commitment,” Woodall said of such skittish behavior, adding that Buyers are “overwhelmed at the thought of making so big an investment.”

He said an important initial step for first-time buyers involves selecting an agent with whom they feel comfortable.

“It’s important to find an agent you really trust and believe to be knowledgeable, not just some cousin who happens to be in the business. To get a feel for the agent, sit down with the person over coffee or lunch. Watch out for anyone who dominates the conversation rather than listening,” Woodall said.

Here are a few pointers for first-time buyers:

•  View mortgage pre-approval as a time-saver.

Although the mortgage market has loosened up slightly since the worst of the economic downturn, real estate specialists say it’s still crucial that all homebuyers visit a lender’s office before shopping for a home. There they can gain mortgage “pre-approval,” meaning the lender will check their credit and give them a letter indicating the extent of their borrowing capacity.

Obtaining mortgage pre-approval also helps ensure that you won’t waste precious time visiting properties that are above your price range, said Merrill Ottwein, a real estate broker for more than 40 years and a past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (

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