Am I ready to buy a home?

Though the federal government closed the door on the $8,000 homebuyer tax credit, real estate professionals remain optimistic that homebuyers looking to take advantage of low mortgage rates and home prices will not be deterred.

But what are the odds that the influx of buyers lured by the tax incentive could find themselves underwater or in a foreclosure situation in the coming years? Hopefully, with stricter lending standards and industry reform, the odds aren't great.

First-time homebuyers in today's market are more cautious than before, said local real estate journalist Michele Lerner, who spoke to an intimate audience of aspiring homebuyers and real estate agents at the Gallery Neptune in Bethesda.

"Buying a home is both a financial and emotional decision," Lerner said, noting that first-time homebuyers don't always think about buying a home as an important long-term decision. "It's not just about buying, it's a lifestyle change."

Lerner spent several months interviewing real estate agents, mortgage lenders and attorneys from all over the country to write her book "Homebuying: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time," a collection of 20 years of experience writing about housing and real estate condensed into 11 chapters. calls it a "MUST for anyone thinking of buying a home."

In doing the research for her book, Lerner said she was surprised by the contrasts she observed after talking to experts in local markets around the U.S. While national reports have painted a dismal picture of the housing market on the whole, pockets do exist where the outlook is not nearly as bleak.

Lerner, a long-time resident of the Washington Metro Area, pointed to the nation's capitol as a case in point. Lower levels of unemployment and incomes that rank above the national average have sheltered the District from the worst of it, while other areas such as South Florida and California have not been so lucky.

Sounds like all the more reason for homebuyers to do their due diligence, which is where a book like Homebuying can come in handy. To avoid the mistakes of homebuyers in recent years, Lerner says homebuyers should not only develop a realistic budget, but develop relationships with professionals they can trust: "The relationships you build with your real estate agent and lender will make or break your decision to buy a home," she said.

Lerner's work is regularly featured in the Washington Times "Friday Homebuyer Guide. " You can also check out this sample chapter and purchase your own shiny copy of the book at Lerner's website.

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