Ten tips to avoid buying the wrong house

Be wary of putting money down when neighborhood kids set up a stand across the street selling ‘Discount Tattoos.’

With mortgage rates at historic lows and “for sale” signs popping up on almost every street in America, 2009 could be a great year for house hunters to snap up bargains. Just remember to take your time. This isn’t the Oklahoma land rush.

In the real estate game, it’s crucial to consider numerous factors beyond price and curb appeal. Here are some suggestions to ensure that your little piece of paradise doesn’t turn out to be pit of endless problems after the papers are signed.

You should be wary of making anything resembling a firm offer if:

•The neighborhood can only be accessed by crossing a small bridge with a sign over the entrance that proclaims, “Payment required when troll is present.”

•You step off the backyard patio and sink up to your knees in mud. Don’t be lulled by assurances like, “That’s only a problem during rainy season.”

•The sales brochure includes ominous-sounding features such as “spontaneous combustion heating system” and “indoor irrigation network.”

•You turn out all the lights in the basement and discover the walls are glowing.

•Strange gasps and groans emerge from a rusting old toolshed behind the garage, but when you ask the realtor about it, you’re told, “We can go over all that during closing.”

•Some kids across the street have set up a table on the sidewalk but instead of selling lemonade their banner says, “Discount Tattoos.”

•A crack in the front porch is dismissed as “just a little settling along the old earthquake fault that runs through this part of town.”

•You ask to meet the sellers and the agent replies, “I’ll have to get permission from their supervisor in the witness protection program.”

•When you enter the house, your car keys suddenly turn magnetic, your wristwatch begins running backward, and your cellphone starts emitting old radio broadcasts of “Amos n’ Andy.”

•A neighbor peeks over the back fence, nervously, and says, “We’re kinda suspicious of outsiders. Fact is, we haven’t had any new people move in around here since it rained frogs and all the lawns died.”

Jeffrey Shaffer writes humor from Portland, Ore.

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