Greg and Joan sat down one day, looked at how much they were spending on rent, and then looked at the low mortgage interest rates. Then, they decided to buy their first home.

But after making such a momentous decision, they were stuck. “What do we do first?” they asked.

Joanne Healey, a realtor associate with Coldwell Banker Schlott Realtors in Pompton Plains, NJ offers this piece of advice: “Make two lists: A wish list and a reality list.”

Many first-time buyers are familiar with the concept of a wish list. You simply take out a piece of paper and write down everything you’ve ever dreamed of having in your house. That includes the marble sink, gold faucet, three-car garage and four-person whirlpool.

Once you know your wants, Healey advises you to figure out your needs.

”I just know their pocketbook will not allow them to have everything they want. I tell them they will begin to get what they want with their second home. Not their first,” she says.

When Healey works with first-time buyers, she sits them down at the first meeting, and asks them very specific questions about what they need to survive in their first home.

”I ask them how many bedrooms they need and how many children do they have or plan to have in the next 5 to 7 years. I ask them if it’s absolutely necessary that they have a garage. If they use public transportation on a daily basis,” she explains.

By asking specific questions about your daily lifestyle, your broker will help you find the best location, home size and amenities for your budget.

”The differences between the reality list and the wish list suggest the trade-offs necessary to make any house purchase,” Healey notes. For example, if you want a wood-burning fireplace but absolutely have to have three bedrooms, and can’t afford both, you may have to trade off that fireplace for a bedroom.

How do you write a reality list? Think about the things you can’t live without. For example, if you can’t stand commuting to work, living in close proximity to your job may be at the top of your pile. If you take public transportation to you job, you should probably pick a location that has excellent access. If you have two children, you should probably put 3-bedrooms somewhere near the top of your list. If you’re a single woman, you’d probably place good security up there also.

Now your broker has something to work with. He or she can take your wish and reality lists and begin to match them to homes listed in your local multiple listing service.

Are the lists worth the time and effort? Brokers say yes.

”I might spend a few hours working with a first-time buyer driving from home to home to get the same information, but writing up these lists will help focus your mind on what you want and can afford,” Healey adds.

Jan. 14, 2005.