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Dear Edith: The first day my husband and I were out looking at houses, we saw a home that we loved but felt uncomfortable making an offer because we had not seen many houses.

How many houses should we look at before making a decision? -- C.

Answer: Same as the number of guys you dated before choosing your husband.

But seriously, your agent, if you're using one, is something along the lines of a matchmaker. He or she is familiar with what's on the market and experienced in judging what's likely to suit you.

My husband, who was a Realtor, was an excellent judge and never had to show buyers many houses. He told his agents, though, not to take buyers to the property that might be the right one first.

"Set up three appointments that meet their specifications," he'd tell them, "but don't show them the most likely place first. Make it second. And then, even if they say they'd like to make an offer on that one, try to get them to view the third place anyhow. That reassures them."

Right now, the real estate market is lively in most places, and it's a good idea to act promptly once you find the house that feels right.

Young people's first attempts at house hunting often trigger misguided advice from grandparents who remember what things used to be like.

"Somebody's telling you all wrong, saying you should buy with such a small down payment. You tell that husband of yours to wait till you've saved up some more money," says a grandparent with memories of the Great Depression.

Those solid old-fashioned virtues of denial and thrift, however, don't always reward today's home buyer. In some areas, the house you want to buy would keep going up in price faster than you could accumulate a larger down payment. Meanwhile, you would lose out on tax benefits, and your rent might be raised, too.

If you've found the place that speaks to you, go for it -- and promptly.

Reverse Mortgage

Mrs. Lank: Do you have any opinion about whether a reverse mortgage is a good idea? We want to stay in our longtime home, and the idea of getting some cash is tempting. Is this a type of scam? -- S.N.

Answer: Not at all. Years ago, when reverse mortgages were first offered, there were some problems, but they've been taken care of long since. For certain older homeowners, they're just right.

A reverse mortgage allows you to draw on the equity of your paid-up home without having to sell it. You can receive income and remain in the property.

They're called "reverse" because instead of making a payment every month, you receive a check. The mortgage builds up as a gradual debt. Or you may choose instead to receive a single large check immediately. Any existing mortgage, if it's not too big, will be paid off.

Just as with any mortgage, you remain the owner of your home. As years pass, it's even possible for the debt to become more than the property is worth. The borrower can still remain, and usually a remaining spouse can after a death.

The most popular reverse mortgages are insured by the federal government. They're called home equity mortgage conversion loans, and they're administered by the Federal Housing Administration, the same agency that handles ordinary FHA loans. At least one borrower must be 62 or older. Owners must have enough income to handle property taxes and homeowners insurance, which will still be their responsibility.

Yes, there are drawbacks, and a reverse mortgage is not for everyone. The debt keeps building up, including fees, with less left for your eventual heirs.

When you die or leave the house permanently, the mortgage debt must be repaid. If selling doesn't bring enough to cover the mortgage, you'll have been carrying FHA insurance to pay the difference. But until then, you cannot be forced to sell.

Reverse mortgages are handled by many regular lenders in your area.

Contact Edith Lank at www.askedith.com, at edithlank@aol.com or at 240 Hemingway Dr., Rochester, NY 14620.

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