A colleague of yours has just accomplished that expensive rite of passage: the transition from renter to homeowner. And your fellow colleagues have decided to throw her a surprise housewarming party, to which you're invited. It's challenging enough to determine what to buy for the first-time buyer if she (or he) is a friend. But if she's merely an acquaintance, your challenge is that much more formidable. Chances are good she's been out on her own for at least a few years before buying her first home, so most likely, she's got the basics: the utensils, the casserole dishes that still sit unopened in a dusty box, and enough mugs to serve the entire United States Army their morning cup of coffee.

Short of coming right out and asking her what she needs (which may take the "surprise" out of "surprise" party, thus making your fellow colleagues just a tad peeved), what can you purchase for her that stands a chance of making it out of the box and into her home - something that won't become a dust collector?

Even if she's been out on her own for quite a few years, she'll find herself needing several new items as a newly established homebuyer. And this ignores, of course, the fact that you can present her with a variety of innovative gifts that don't fall within the category of decorative items.

The easiest way to determine an appropriate housewarming gift is to pinpoint the one emotion experienced by all first-time homebuyers: stress. This universal side effect of first-time homeownership is brought on not only by the process of packing up, moving in and unpacking, but also by that queasy feeling first-time buyers experience when their thoughts drift to the prospect of making monthly mortgage payments that at first glance appear to have too many zeros.

From here, you can think about ways to treat your first-time buyer friend to a diversion from her stress. Consider, for example, a subscription to her favorite magazine. She'll have something to look forward to in her mailbox - something other than bills. Or how about a temporary subscription to the local newspaper?

Many homebuyers plan to subscribe, but forget to do so when they're buried in so many other moving responsibilities. One of the most personal gifts you can give comes from your kitchen. No first-time buyer wants to cook immediately upon his or her arrival in a new home. That's a given. For starters, your friend couldn't find her cooking utensils if she wanted to. So bake her something from your oven for breakfast - a coffee cake, for example - or give her a homemade gift certificate redeemable for dinner at your house one evening (if you're on close terms) or redeemable for you to bring dinner to her home. If you don't cook particularly well, present her with a gift certificate to a local restaurant for an evening out. You might also consider giving her a gift certificate to a local grocery store or online grocer.

Consider some entertainment options. Entertainment, after all, can fall by the wayside when first-time buyers are wrapped up in the adjustment period required after they assume a mortgage payment. An excellent diversion is an evening at the movies or a gift certificate to the local video store, so she'll have something to watch while she's unpacking all of those boxes. Or, consider purchasing her a CD or two for her home.

If you have a little more time and money to spend, and the homebuyer in question is a good friend, you may consider putting together a basket of items with an entertainment theme - something baked from your kitchen, a movie rental gift certificate, a CD, or perhaps a good paperback. On the more practical side, you could throw in an address book and a blank photo album to fill with memories from her new home.

Another option: Find out if your city offers a local coupon book redeemable for several area restaurants and entertainment venues. The coupons are often two-for-one deals, making them the perfect gift for the budget-conscious buyer. You could also take the "organization" angle - the promotion of which, undoubtedly, can help reduce stress. How about a new address book or a photo box (which can be converted into a box for her important papers)? A postman's box also is an excellent idea. A combination of decorative and practical, a postman's box may be used to store CD collections, small objects or even mail. Baskets, too, make tasteful, yet useful gifts.

Home improvement stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's have exploded in popularity, particularly throughout the last decade, when "do it yourself" became the mantra of a record number of homeowners. Even if you're unsure whether or not your first-time buyer-friend is ready to take over Bob Vila's job, a gift certificate to a home improvement retail center is an excellent gift because such centers also sell basic gardening essentials and various small home appliances and tools that have proven to be indispensable even to the most "unhandy" of homebuyers. You don't have to break the bank or spend hours determining the specific likes and preferences of a first-time homebuyer.

These housewarming ideas are simple, easy, relatively inexpensive and virtually guaranteed to be greeted with extreme enthusiasm.

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