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How to buy a house without headaches

| Sunday, March 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Home might be where the heart is, but the house-buying process can easily become a headache. To keep hassles to a minimum, take time to independently evaluate each professional you'll need, from lender to real estate agent to home inspector to title agent. Choose client-focused, experienced pros who are appropriately licensed.

Additional tips:

Mortgage lender. Before you start looking at homes, find a reliable lender to pre-approve financing. This is especially important now, given more stringent government regulation of home financing. Seek a responsive bank or mortgage professional who keeps the terms of the agreement consistent, or gives fair warning of changes, and who communicates well so that paperwork flows in a timely way.

Real estate agent. Look for agents who'll communicate with you promptly throughout the process. Avoid an agent who steers you only to his or her own listings or those of the company. Be wary of hiring relatives or friends with limited experience or agents who work only part time. Confirm that an agent is properly licensed and in good professional standing. If you end up under contract with an agent you're unhappy with, ask to be released from the arrangement. If that fails, consider asking an experienced local real estate attorney for advice.

Home inspector. Look for inspectors who go beyond state regulatory requirements, receive continued education and belong to a professional organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors. Be sure to schedule an inspection early enough in the process that there's time to deal with repair issues or other problems.

Title agent. Lenders or real estate agents may recommend title companies, but to avoid hiring someone with a conflict of interest, be sure to ask about affiliations between parties. Also, inquire about licensing, which is required for title agents in all states, and request a full list of charges.

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