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First-time buyer's guide to the galaxy

You're starting to think you'd like to buy a house . . . but you're not there yet.

You're a potential first-time buyer, but you've got more questions than answers. You don't know exactly how to buy a house, and you want to know what you're getting into before you start talking to real estate agents, signing contracts and applying for a mortgage.

You're a pre-buyer, and you're the target audience for real estate writer Ilyce R. Glink's new book, 10 Steps to Home Ownership: A Workbook for First-Time Buyers ($15; published by Times Books, an imprint of Random House, not affiliated with the St. Petersburg Times).

Her goal, Glink said in a telephone interview from Chicago, was to provide help for people "who have made home ownership a goal but didn't know how to cross the divide and get to a place where they were ready to start looking for a home. I wanted to write something that would support them in this enormous decision and give them something to rely on, a backbone."

Glink is the author of two other real estate guides: One Hundred Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and 100 Questions Every Home Seller Should Ask. She hosts a nationally syndicated real estate radio talk show, Century 21 Real Estate USA, and writes a syndicated weekly column on real estate. She and her husband have bought and sold several homes.

"I wanted to make it possible for these people to imagine themselves as homeowners, so I came up with 10 steps, things to do before they're ready to go look for a house," Glink said.

Those steps include deciding whether to rent or buy; determining a price range; putting together cash for down payment and closing costs; cleaning up credit; legal problems; deciding where to live; choosing a sales agent; comparing homes, costs and finances; financing the home; and the closing.

In each chapter Glink discusses emotional and family issues as well as financial issues. "I gave them each equal weight, and I don't think anybody else has done that before," Glink says. She writes frankly about what happens when parents want to put up some of the money for a home purchase, or when partners have mismatched credit or job histories, or when they can't agree on what they want in a home.

Glink sprinkles a lot of "10 Step Tips," quick suggestions and ideas, throughout the book and includes work sheets to help readers figure out what they can afford, create a budget, or establish priorities.

That should help readers get to the point where "you feel confident that your finances and credit are in order, that you've saved enough for your down payment, and that you know deep in your heart that you're ready to make the sacrifices required to achieve your dream of home ownership," Glink writes.

Those sacrifices aren't easy, says Glink, who weaves her own life experiences into the book. "I waste money buying gourmet hot chocolate at Starbucks," she admitted. "I have a 17-month-old; I know what Pampers cost. I relate to what the expenses are when you're not making enough money and you have credit card debt or don't know what a house is going to cost."

So pre-buyers need to tighten their belts and change their priorities. "You give each other chocolate lollipops for Valentine's Day, not a gold heart, and you put $200 in the house fund," she said. "Or at Christmas you give each other small token gifts. Your first house is such a special gift you're giving to yourself. It's a privilege and a gift, not a right and an entitlement. But you do have to make sacrifices. Life is about compromise."

It's like a diet, she said: "What's the end result you want to achieve? You want to buy a house. You may buy a Starbucks every now and again, go out to dinner now and again, buy a special present for a special occasion now and again, but in the long run, what do you really want to do? You want to buy a house, and the best way to do that is on good financial footing. For a year or two you hunker down, pay off your debts, get your credit in order, and when you buy a house, you win.

"Remember, the whole point of all this is that it's going to set you up financially and emotionally for the rest of your life. Even if you don't stay in the house _ which you won't _ you build equity and create what will eventually become the proverbial nest egg."

Becoming a homeowner is one step toward becoming a grownup, Glink said, "and it's not such a bad thing to be."

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