The shortage of houses for sale has changed the real estate landscape in numerous ways.

One is that finding just the right place has supplanted obtaining financing and wading through the necessary paperwork as the most difficult aspect of the buying process, according to the latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers from the National Assn. of Realtors.

But a survey from Chicago lender Guaranteed Rate finds that many buyers would rather do almost anything else than go through the mortgage process again.

To be fair, a little more than half the 1,000 people polled this fall found the buying-lending experience rather simple and easy to navigate. But nearly 1 in 4 said they would rather gain 10 pounds, and almost 1 in 8 would rather spend 24 hours with the person they dislike the most.

If you think that's bad, 7% would rather have a root canal, and almost that many would choose a night in prison over going through the mortgage process again.

Asked another way — "Which of the following makes you extremely uneasy or anxious" — obtaining financing again scored very low in the Guaranteed Rate study. In fact, more people were more comfortable with public speaking, being in high places, flying in an airplane, being around snakes and being in a confined space than they were going through the mortgage process.

This flies in the face of the latest J.D. Power mortgage origination satisfaction study, which found that more borrowers were pleased with their lenders now than at any time in the last seven years.

Overall customer satisfaction improved for the third consecutive year. But as you might expect, first-time buyers who have never had to navigate the system weren't as tickled as repeat buyers and refinancers. Which prompts this bit of advice from Craig Martin, director of the financial services practice at J.D. Power:

"First-time buyers often have questions and should not be afraid to ask prospective lenders about the specifics of the mortgage process and how they will be kept informed. Much of the stress with borrowing comes from a lack of information and knowledge during the process. Asking when you will be updated and how that information will be provided are two key questions that may help improve the borrowing experience."

Commuting costs

More than 3 in 4 home buyers polled in the National Assn. of Realtors' latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers said commuting costs are either "very" or "somewhat" important to their ultimate purchase decisions. After all, the combined cost of housing and transportation consumes close to half of the typical working family's monthly budget.

This makes a new tool from Uncle Sam that much more meaningful.

The Location Affordability Portal from the Housing and Urban Development Department and Transportation Department enables users to estimate the combined housing and transportation costs for a specific region, neighborhood and even street.

LAP is actually two tools: one, a map-based Location Affordability Index, is a database that predicts annual housing and transportation costs for a particular area. The other, My Transportation Cost Calculator, enables users to customize data for their own household and potential residential locations.

LAP includes diverse household profiles — which vary by income, size and number of commuters — and shows the affordability landscape for each one across an entire region. It was designed to help renters and homeowners — plus planners, policymakers, developers and researchers — get a more complete understanding of the costs of living in a location given the differences between households, neighborhoods and regions, all of which affect affordability. The data covers 94% of the U.S. population.

The cost calculator enables users to enter basic information about income, housing, cars and travel patterns. The customized estimates give a better understanding of transportation costs, how much they differ in other locations, and how much they are affected by individual choices, so users can make more informed decisions about where to live and work.

"Many consumers make the mistake of thinking they can afford to live in a certain neighborhood or region just because they can afford the rent or mortgage payment," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said. "Housing affordability encompasses much more than that."

You can find the location affordability tool at http://www.locationaffordability.info.

Now, if the powers that be could just come up with an accurate way to estimate a home's utility costs, the problem of over-extending beyond one's means could be solved.

lsichelman@aol.com

Distributed by Universal Uclick for United Feature Syndicate.