Dear Readers: I would like to share some sound advice about probably one of the most important purchases of your life: buying a home. This can be a scary proposition, but it doesn't have to be if you do your homework in advance and have a checklist, which could help to eliminate some of the worry.

Here are some hints that I think you'll find helpful:In general, the home you are thinking about buying should cost no more than two to two-and-a-half times your annual family income. Or, the monthly mortgage payment, electric, water and maintenance bills should not be more than one-fourth of your total monthly income.

It is always a good idea to get pre-qualified by a local lender so you have an idea of the price range in which you will be eligible to purchase.

Hire a licensed home inspector to look for flaws, damage and possible future repair problems . . . unless the price is such a bargain that repair costs would not be a factor.

Consider the distance to schools, availability of bus service and how long it will take you to get to work. Also, are there shopping malls, grocery stores, a post office or hospitals nearby?

Figure out how high your taxes will be. Most counties have a Web site where you can find the amount of property taxes that were paid for the previous year.

Talk to neighbors — they can fill you in on any unique neighborhood problems or perks! Go to the city's Web site to find out (usually by ZIP code) about any crimes or registered offenders in the area you are considering.

Happy house-hunting! —Heloise

Dear Heloise: I pack complete outfits (slacks, tops, belts, scarves) on hangers in a garment bag. This is easier to move to a motel closet and choose from without rummaging through a suitcase.

On long car trips, a laundry bag and a small, plastic clothes basket for coin-operated laundry facilities are useful. —Eleanor Shaw, via e-mail

Dear Heloise: I have found that a back scrubber with a nylon-net puff makes an excellent toilet brush. It is very inexpensive (use a discarded one) and dries quickly. —Barbara Brigman, Huntsville, Ala.

Send a money-saving or timesaving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, TX 78279-5000, or you can fax it to 210-HELOISE (435-6473) or e-mail it to I can't answer your letter personally but will use the best hints received in my column.

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