As mortgage rates rise, buying one's first house may amount to the American pipe dream, but this neighborly introduction can help inexperienced buyers increase their options as they narrow their expectations. For the most part, it spells out obvious procedures (a title search) and suggests reasonable areas of inquiry: find out, for example, not just the previous year's utility bills but how fast the rates have been climbing. Advice on condominiums and cooperatives is skimpy and there is relatively little on materials--the differences between wood and plastic shingles, say, or brick's advantages as an insulator. But there are tips on moving off-season, judging real estate agents, ""magic money,"" and--critically--assessing your needs. Fundamental track conditions for that slippery homestretch.